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Government determined not to liberalise the airwaves

(MISA/IFEX) - Minister of State for Information and Publicity Jonathan Moyo said the government is not planning to liberalise the airwaves because the government had already done so soon after independence. He was responding to questions from journalists attending the MISA-Zimbabwe chapter Annual General Meeting on 26 August 2000.

Moyo said that as a result of that liberalisation, there had been many players in the broadcasting field, some of whom had folded. The challenge, Moyo said, was first to empower these many players, making sure that the media instruments were in the hands of Zimbabweans. "In America one cannot own a newspaper without first becoming an American. You cannot say the media is 'the fourth estate' when you do not care who owns it," Moyo said.

He dismissed the idea that liberalisation of the airwaves meant allowing the establishment of community radio stations by different players, among other things. "There are some good and bad things in the media. That is why it is important to talk of both advantages and disadvantages of a project. I will be suspicious with someone, who comes in with only advantages of a project without saying anything about the disadvantages," Moyo said. He added that those calling for
the establishment of private radio stations had done so without giving the other side of the story.

According to MISA's information, no private independent radio stations have existed in Zimbabwe since its independence. In the late 1990s, the government allowed three separate private television broadcasters to lease broadcasting airtime from the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). Two of these broadcasters - MunuMutaphe African Broadcasting Corporation (MABC) and LDM-Broadcasting - have since folded. Both were switched off after slightly more than a year of broadcasting, apparently because they had defaulted on their rent payments. Joy-TV remains the only one of the three still broadcasting through the ZBC transmitters.

Background Information

Zimbabwe and Swaziland are the only countries in the region who have not liberalised their airwaves. Although the Zimbabwean government has been promising to open the airwaves since 1997, nothing has been done. After a MISA-Zimbabwe/Panos "National Forum on Liberalising Broadcasting in Zimbabwe" in 1997, the government drafted the Communications Bill, which was intended to open up the broadcasting and telecommunication sectors. In 1998, the bill was taken to stakeholders for their input, after which it was redrafted.

However, in July 1999, the government announced that it was no longer liberalising the broadcasting sector, but was instead opening the telecommunication sector. The Communications Bill was changed into the Postal and Telecommunication Bill, which has since been passed into law.

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