The Voice of America (VOA) has extended its Studio 7 programming and services to Zimbabwe, reports Gugu Ziyaphapha.

One-hour programmes on Saturday and Sunday have been introduced, adding to its existing 90-minute broadcasts every weekday evening.

The station says this is in response to the country’s mounting crises, upcoming crucial elections and government’s jamming of the short wave VOA transmission signals.

With no private broadcasting and tight controls on the press, Zimbabweans have increasingly turned to services available from outside the country. Studio 7 for Zimbabwe went on air in January 2003 and now has about one million listeners
The new one-hour programmes include 20 minutes for news in English and the two main local languages, Shona and Ndebele.

The weekend programmes will carry breaking news, developing stories and topical discussions which will try to find solutions to the political and economic crisis, VOA said. Listeners will be given a platform to call in and air their views and opinions on different topics.

Produced by the Zimbabwe Project, Studio 7 is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and is managed and operated by Voice of America. It is edited by exiled Zimbabwean journalists, and contributions come from reporters on the ground in Zimbabwe.

The government has responded to the growth of broadcasting from outside by jamming stations which it says are anti the Zanu-PF government. Recently the government's own short wave propaganda counter-initiative fell victim to its own jamming.

Meanwhile, two leading artists have lamented the deteriorating standards of local ZTV productions.

Controversial playwright and historian and author Cont Mhlanga and Pathisa Nyathi say the poor programmes screened by the state-controlled and sole TV station are forcing Zimbabweans to switch to satellite television.

They say the uninspiring productions are driving away viewers and advertisers from ZTV thereby leaving artists without a market for their products.

Mhlanga said : "The quality of arts products showing on Zimbabwean television is shocking, It is interesting to note that even artists who take part in these productions do not even bother to watch themselves on ZTV because they prefer satellite television.

"We must not make our people hate their own country because what they see everyday is not inspiring.  How would a child who watches South African Broadcasting Corporation appreciate the value of being a Zimbabwean?"