The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) says it has failed to
licence independent radio and TV stations because restrictive and
problematic legislation which makes it difficult for new applicants to
meet the requirements, writes Gugu Ziyaphapha.

The BAZ chief executive, Obert Muganyura was responding to questions from Zanu-PF MP and Chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications, Leo Mugabe, on why the authority had not licenced new players as tasked by the committee at a previous hearing.

Muganyura said: "We gave the projection that we would by this time (have) licenced new players on the understanding that the Broadcasting Act would have been amended but it has not yet. We have extended invitations to all interested applicants but not a single applicant has managed to meet the required licencing criteria."

Muganyura described the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) as full of inconsistencies and barriers. He cited as prohibitive the shareholding structure required as well as the outlawing of foreign funding and donations.

Muganyura’s revelations make him the first government official to publicly acknowledge the restrictive nature of the broadcasting laws.

However, former information minister and architect of the broadcasting laws Professor Jonathan Moyo (now an independent MP) said the authority ought to have continued inviting people and those interested could strive to fulfil the licencing criteria.

Moyo said: "If the evidence was there that the authority spent the whole year inviting people and got no response then there is a case. However, since 2004 they have never invited people. This is a disingenuous explanation."

Mugabe said the act did not bar foreign funding but only prohibited the foreign ownership of the media organisatons.

The committee took the authority to task for failing to effectively monitor the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings TV and radio stations who were not complying with requirements for 75 percent local content and 25 percent independent producers programming.

BAZ was also quizzed on what it is doing to address the failure by state signal carrier, Transmedia to provide broadcasting services to the whole nation.

"We have tried to push Transmedia to ensure broadcasting services are available in all areas but they are saying they have problems with funding," Muganyura said.

MISA-Zimbabwe, a media watchdog, says the failure to amend the BSA and make BAZ is independent ensures that the ruling Zanu-Pf government will continue to maintain its grip on the broadcast media.

MISA also noted that: “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 Holdings.”

Zimbabwe is the only country in Southern Africa where the state has monopoly in broadcasting.