World Radio Day: Zimbabwe authorities must speed up the licensing of community radio initiatives.

Amnesty International Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Radio Day adopted by the United General Assembly in 2012 and which falls on 13 February. This year the commemoration comes at a time when Zimbabwe has started licensing community radios which is a step in the right direction. Whilst acknowledging the steps taken by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe to license community radio initiatives, Amnesty International is concerned with the slow pace and small numbers of community radio that have been licensed to date. The authorities are not doing enough to fast-track and expand the process.

In its 2015 report entitled, Beyond Tokenism: The need to license community radio stations in Zimbabwe, Amnesty International said that “the government’s continued stranglehold on community radio and its refusal to issue licenses to all but commercial operators with links to state owned companies or those with government ties is a ploy to stifle freedom of expression.”

To promote plurality of voices and diversity in media ownership, the government must allow a wide range of radio stations at different levels of society to operate and promote their sustainability.

The theme for this year is: “radio and diversity”. On the World Radio Day 2021, Amnesty International Zimbabwe calls on the government to speed up the process of impartially licensing community radios in Zimbabwe to facilitate opportunities for human rights and sustainable development. Community radio plays a significant role in raising community voices, thoughts, problems, and issues of those people who do not have access to mainstream media. Radio facilitates the right of access to information, thereby assisting the flow of information between policy makers and rights holders.

Today as we commemorate the World Radio Day, we reiterate that media plurality and diversity of ownership is an essential component of the rights to freedom of expression, information, and media freedom. Amnesty International believes that delays in licensing of community radio stations in Zimbabwe is pernicious to democracy as it hinders marginalized communities from fully exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and access to information. As such, community radios must be licensed without discrimination and any further delay.

Radio continues to provide services that help people to connect, exchange ideas and information that will spearhead human development. In the current situation of an economic and climate crisis, natural disasters such as Cyclone Idai and flooding as well as the global health pandemic, radio is an important platform for access to useful information and ideas that will serve to protect and empower people, particularly the marginalized and vulnerable who may not have access to other forms of media. Radio has adapted to new technologies and remains widely accessible even to people living in remote communities.

Radio is a low-cost medium specifically suited to reaching vulnerable people in remote communities, providing a platform for public debate and equal access to democratic discourse irrespective of people’s level of education. Radio is uniquely positioned to bring communities together and foster positive dialogue for change. It assists the authorities to be more responsive and accountable to the people whilst providing a channel for communication of challenges that people are facing in their communities.

Background

Since 2015 Amnesty International and its partners ZACRAS, have been campaigning for the of establishment of the BAZ Board and the licensing of community radio initiatives. At that time over 28 independent community radio initiatives were waiting to be licensed. In 2019 the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting established the BAZ Board and invited community radio initiatives to apply for licenses.  As of 31 January, the BAZ Board has issued three community radio licenses and two university campus licenses to the Midlands State University and University of Zimbabwe.

Amnesty International Zimbabwe therefore reiterates its calls to the Zimbabwean government to expeditiously license a diverse range of community radios to promote community development, state responsiveness to issues being encountered at the local and national level.