The media should always strive to be proactive in problematising areas that are rarely questioned or considered as problem areas. When media plays its fourth estate role through provoking public debate which results in enlightened citizens, one will find that even Government’s laws and policies are ultimately steered by the public discourse-both offline and online.
As we commemorate this year’s World Press Freedom Day, the 2017 theme, “Critical minds for critical times: The media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies”, could not have been more appropriate especially if one considers our Zimbabwean situation. Presently, Zimbabwe is faced with a plethora of economic, political, and social challenges, hence the need for media to harness critical thinking in order to foster solutions that will hopefully improve our situation.
As we commemorate this day, ZACRAS continues to call upon the Government of Zimbabwe to urgently address the gap emanating from the absence of licensed community radio stations. The fact that Government has not prioritised licensing of community radios is evidence that it is viewed as a peripheral issue which does not need to be urgently addressed. This unfortunately curtails citizen participation and access to information through utilising locally available platforms needed for promoting citizen driven local development.
In March 2015, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) licensed 8 local commercial stations. It was however worrying to note that the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Mr George Charamba, was reported in The Herald of March 4 2017 as having said that Government responded to calls for community broadcasting by licensing several stations, with more coming on board soon and that should “bury” the debate on community radio stations.
ZACRAS is of the conviction that one can never equate a local commercial station to a community radio because the two serve different purposes. Commercial stations have a profit motive and community radio is people centred and development oriented. As such, there is still a need to license community radios.
Zimbabwe is faced with challenges such as climate change induced disasters, poverty and various health related problems.
Community radio therefore remains not only a critical tool for mobilising communities towards the generation of home grown solutions, but also a tool for promoting socio-economic and political inclusion. It is worrisome that at a time that Zimbabwe’s neighbour, Zambia, is celebrating an increase in the number of licenced community and commercial radios in the southern part of Zambia, the Government of Zimbabwe continues to frown upon licensing community radios.
As we commemorate the 2017 World Press Freedom Day, ZACRAS calls upon the Government of Zimbabwe to:
-Expedite the licensing of community radios.
-Cease victimisation and intimidation of community radio practitioners.
-Create a conducive environment where community radios can flourish and serve communities.
-Provide a democratic regulatory framework for community broadcasting.
The National Association of Non Governmental Organisations (NANGO) is the official coordinating umbrella body of Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) operating in Zimbabwe. Its aim is to strengthen, represent and coordinate the work of NGOs in Zimbabwe by creating space, dialogue and engagement to enable the fulfilment of members’ visions and missions.
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This statement was inserted by NANGO on behalf of its member ZACRAS