2 new radio stations in Zimbabwe get licenses

AP News
Posted: Nov 25, 2011 9:52 AM
2 new radio stations in Zimbabwe get licenses

Two Zimbabwe commercial radio stations were issued licenses to compete for the first time with the sole government-owned broadcaster loyal to the president, Zimbabwe's state broadcasting authority said Friday.

But the independent Media Institute of Southern Africa said the new stations were not fairly chosen because the licensing decisions were made by officials appointed by the information ministry controlled by President Robert Mugabe's party.

Zimbabwe Newspapers, publishers of the main pro-Mugabe daily Herald, will launch a Talk Radio channel. The second channel, ZiFM, is controlled by a black empowerment campaigner and stalwart of Mugabe's party who says it will go on air within six months.

A coalition deal with the former opposition in 2009 called for an end to the three-decade monopoly of Mugabe's Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. No commercial broadcast licenses have been issued since independence from colonial-era rule in 1980.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party on Friday described the licensing decisions as an unacceptable betrayal of the power sharing deal.

"This is a sad day for the media and showcases the brazen and deliberate undermining" of Tsvangirai's authority in the coalition, his spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka said.

ZiFM is owned by a media firm headed by Supa Mandiwanzira, also a one-time journalist and presenter at state television. Mandiwanzira was named by Mugabe's party as a likely parliamentary candidate for elections proposed next year, Tamborinyoka said.

Zimbabwe Newspapers is a private company listed on the Harare stock exchange, but the government has owned the majority stockholding since the 1980s when Mugabe's party took a tight rein on its journalists.

The southern Africa media institute, which campaigns for media freedoms, said the legal status of the new licenses was in doubt. It cited irregularities in the appointment of the board of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, the body that issued the licenses.

The board is chaired by Tafataona Mahoso, former head of the state media commission that enforced draconian media curbs before the formation of the coalition between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Zimbabwe's government coalition was formed after violent and disputed elections in 2008.

For nearly a decade, Mahoso was widely described by critics as Mugabe's media "hatchet man."

The independent Harare-based Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe said Friday the selection of just two of several wide-ranging applications for private broadcasting licenses was not carried out transparently and broadcast laws governing the powers and membership of the authority weighing in Mugabe's favor needed reform.

"Until we have an independent broadcasting authority and democratic broadcast laws we will continue to have this sort of conflict," said Takura Zhangazha, head of the council.