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Police bar "Free the Airwaves" concert

(MISA/IFEX) - On 23 July 2011, the police barred MISA-Zimbabwe and the Artists for Democracy Trust Zimbabwe from staging a joint "Free the Airwaves" concert at the Warren Park Shopping Centre in Harare. This took place despite the fact that the organisers of the event had notified the police and were cleared to proceed with the concert.

The Warren Park police officers argued that the notification letter did not outline the fact that the event was a public awareness activity. The police said they only became aware of the scope of the event following an article published in "NewsDay" on 20 July.

The article quoted MISA-Zimbabwe Advocacy Officer Tabani Moyo saying, "It is our right as people of Zimbabwe to have diverse views. Such views can only be promoted through a level playing field in the media. We need a diverse broadcasting sector as we are only limited to ZBC (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation) products. There should be public, private and community media."

"Free the Airwaves" concerts are platforms that MISA-Zimbabwe employs to build public support in lobbying the authorities regarding the need for wholesale broadcasting reforms that will completely liberate the airwaves, in line with regional and international treaties on freedom of expression. The Zimbabwean broadcasting sector continues to be dominated by the state-run ZBC 31 years after independence.

MISA-Zimbabwe condemns the barring of peaceful civil events and gatherings such as the one slated for Warren Park as not only undemocratic but indicative of the extent to which the police are arbitrarily abusing their authority in violation of citizens' constitutionally guaranteed rights. It is such arbitrary actions that the coalition government should urgently address and curb to prevent the country from plunging into a police state.

Despite the setback, MISA-Zimbabwe remains undeterred in its demands for a diverse broadcasting sector. It therefore calls on the government of Zimbabwe to embrace the provisions of the African Charter on Broadcasting (2001) which enjoins member states to facilitate the development of a three tier broadcasting system through the establishment of public, commercial and community broadcasters.

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