State-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH) is about to launch a new short wave radio station, writes Gugu Ziyaphapha.

The Voice of Zimbabwe will go on air on 25 May, Africa Unity Day, offering news, analysis and discussion programmes.

Aimed at Zumbabweans at home and abroad, it will start by broadcasting for only 2 hours per day before going 24 hours.

Media critics view Voice of Zimbabwe as a government project aimed at countering stations that broadcast from outside the country. The state accuses these stations of spreading anti-ruling party propaganda.

However, Henry Muradzikwa, ZBH’s CEO, said the new station “will not be a propaganda station. It will present the truth. We hope it will also give Zimbabweans an opportunity to tell their own story.

”We plan to not only interview business people and other people in urban areas but to go out to rural areas and record what people there have to say."

Veteran broadcaster and former liberation war fighter, Happison Muchechetere, will head the station, which will be based in Gweru. ZBH’s Power FM is also based in Gweru.

Muchechetere says:"We have not been created to counter or oppose what other radio stations say. Our mission is to give a true picture of events in Zimbabwe. We will not be setting out to comment on or react to what other stations say. We will be telling our own story, the true story of events in Zimbabwe."

The state broadcaster says it also plans to introduce world television broadcasts during the year.

Government has in the past jammed the airwaves to prevent locals from listening to stations such a Voice of America, Voice of the People, Short Wave Radio and BBC World Service.

Zimbabweans who are tired of ZBH propaganda and those in areas that do not receive ZBH’s FM signals – around 70% of the country – depend on foreign shortwave broadcasts for their source of news.

Voice of Zimbabwe was supposed to have gone on air in April but was delayed because of financial problems.

Just as the new station goes on air, the ZBH’s youth station Power FM has been hit by the loss of seven DJs, including the station’s boss, Admire Taderera.

The exodus started early this year and only 2 senior DJs now remain.

Senior DJs are earning about Z$600 thousand (R150) but the bread line is pegged at Z$1.7million (R425) and inflation stands at 3700%, the highest in the world.

Journalists from the state media are believed to be the lowest paid in the world.

Tafadzwa Squila, the latest DJ to resign, says, “Most people say radio is a passion but I have to move on with my life.”

In order to supplement their salaries, DJs resorted to playing in clubs and buying basic goods from South Africa for resale in Zimbabwe. Some of the DJs are reported to have crossed over into South Africa and Malawi in search of greener pastures. Anthony Makoni has joined a radio station in Malawi and Innocent Tshuma is now a fulltime cross-border trader.

Meanwhile, the public broadcaster reports that it made a profit Z$1,5 billion (R375 thousand) in the first quarter of this year because of an increase in advertising revenue and drop in expenditure.

ZBH attributes the increased advertising revenue to new programmes on both radio and television.

Muradzikwa said: "This is the first time ZBH has made a profit like this, which is no mean achievement, particularly as we were unable to collect licence fees. The profit we registered in the first three months of the year was a result of both the increase in advertising revenue, as advertisers regained confidence in ZBH Television and ZBH Radio, and the deliberate restraint imposed on expenditure."

ZBH collected only $96 million(R24 thousand) from licence fees before government directed the broadcaster to suspend the collection of licence fees following a public outcry over the huge fees hike. The public broadcaster says it stood to make a whopping Z$45 billion (R11 million) from the licence fee payments. This would have pushed ZBH’s profit margin higher.

Muradzikwa said the profit was not enough considering the company’s debts and the new equipment that needed to be bought.