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MISA issues statement on shortwave radio broadcasts

(MISA/IFEX) - 17 December 2009 - MISA-Zimbabwe has been following with particular interest the seemingly contentious issue of shortwave radio stations within the context of the ongoing Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediation process.

It is MISA-Zimbabwe's well considered view that broadcasts by shortwave radio stations are an internationally accepted global phenomenon in terms of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Treaty and are in accordance with the realization of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Shortwave radio frequencies have been critical in allowing access to information for disadvantaged and repressed peoples across the world. They have also played a critical role in the heroic struggles of the people of southern Africa against colonialism.

In view of Article 19 of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), MISA-Zimbabwe finds it most unfortunate that the three political parties that are now in the inclusive government have misunderstood the purpose and function of shortwave radio stations. The fact that these radio stations are transmitting within the legally allocated frequency bands by the host countries and without any contravention of the ITU stipulations takes away the credence of the argument of their illegality.

In addition, there are no laws in Zimbabwe that restrict the broadcasting of shortwave frequencies into our country. In fact, Section 20 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees that citizens are free to hold and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

The stipulation in Article 19 of the GPA requesting that foreign governments desist from hosting/funding shortwave radio stations can only be construed as tantamount to calling for the banning of all shortwave radio stations across the world. This would be reflective of disdain on the part of the three political parties for United Nations treaties as they relate to both the ITU and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is MISA-Zimbabwe's contention that the core issue at hand is not about shortwave radio stations, which incidentally do not just broadcast into Zimbabwe alone, but rather relates to reluctance by certain elements among the negotiating parties to allow for the proliferation of freedom of expression and access to information in Zimbabwe.

MISA-Zimbabwe therefore strongly recommends that the three signatory parties to the GPA focus more on the fundamental issue of freedom of expression and access to information which has been denied to the people of Zimbabwe.

This would entail the immediate licensing of private broadcasters for both television and radio, while at the same time converting the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings from a state broadcaster into an independent public service broadcaster.

Once that is achieved, the issue of 'outside broadcasts' would be of minor concern to Zimbabweans yearning for a liberalised media environment that allows them access to alternative views, opinions and ideas that would shape and inform their decision making on socio-economic and political issues that affect their wellbeing.

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