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Statement by broadcasting authority reveals unyielding government grip on broadcast media through restrictive law, says MISA

(MISA/IFEX) - In a revealing and first time acknowledgment of the restrictive nature of the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), says its hands are tied as no new broadcasting players can come into the scene under the present regulatory environment.

Giving evidence before the Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications on 17 August 2007, BAZ Chief Executive Officer Obert Muganyura says the authority, set under the BSA, has failed to license new players as no potential private players can meet the "stringent criteria".

"We gave the projection that we would by this time have licensed new players on the understanding that the Broadcasting Services Act would have been amended, but it has not yet", said Muganyura to the Parliamentarians.

The stringent requirements in the BSA that Muganyura described as problematic include a ban on foreign funding and ownership, restrictions on the number of national free to air private broadcasters that can be licensed, as well as the restrictions placed on ownership of frequency transmitters. The BSA provides that only the government-owned company, Transmedia, can own frequency transmitters and all new players have to line up to do business with Transmedia. As the situation stands in Zimbabwe, Transmedia is failing to provide adequate services to one TV station, the state owned Zimbabwe Television, as well as to four FM radio stations, all owned by the state through the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

MISA Zimbabwe notes that the revelations by BAZ on the democratic deficiencies in the BSA, as well as the political procrastination of the government in amending the BSA, further points to the fact that the ruling party and its government are bent on maintaining their total grip on the broadcast media. Missing in the statement from BAZ is its total lack of independence to make decisions, as its plays only a secretarial role to the Minister of Information and Publicity. Without an independent regulatory authority guaranteed by law, the job of the BAZ will remain subject to the whim of politicians.

The prevailing situation places Zimbabwe in a unique position in southern Africa, where it is the only country with a virtual state monopoly in broadcasting. It should be noted that the closure of broadcasting space to new players is a political decision and act meant to safeguard the interest of the ruling elite, hence the defiance of expert advice and calls by citizens and civic society for the industry to be opened to new players.

As Zimbabwe faces elections in 2008, it should become clear to all that no democratic, free and fair elections can be held in an environment where only one political party has access to the broadcast media.

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