Media rights group MISA-Zimbabwe has slammed the national broadcasting authority for attempting to "mislead" the public, by announcing new licences were available.
The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) has announced that licences are available for companies and individuals that provide broadcast content. This includes hotels, banks and even bus operators who broadcast radio or television content to its clients. BAZ has since instructed all of these groups to apply for licences or risk contravening the Broadcast Services Act.
In a notice, BAZ said the licences were "not subject to a public inquiry:"
"The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe wishes to advise the public that the law defines a broadcasting service in Section 2 (1) of the Broadcasting Services Act (Chapter 12:06) as 'any service which delivers television or radio programmes to persons having equipment appropriate for receiving that service'," reads part of the notice.
The licence applications fees range from US$300 to US$10,000 depending on what category the affected groups are listed under. For example; banks, five star hotels and other business entities are expected to pay US$10,000 per year if they broadcast television or radio content. Even bus operators, who broadcast on their coaches, are subject to a US$100 per vehicle annual licensing fee.
This new licensing structure comes as there is still an urgent need for the opening of the airwaves in terms of independent radio groups and community radio projects. To date, the only commercial ventures to be given broadcast licences are Star FM and ZiFM, which have both been linked to ZANU PF and the highly partisan state media.
MISA-Zimbabwe director Nhlanhla Ngwenya told SW Radio Africa that BAZ is trying to "mislead the public that they are doing something about opening the broadcasting sector."
"It is clear this won't do anything to help ordinary Zimbabweans access information. It does nothing for people who need information across Zimbabwe," Ngwenya said.
The agreement that formed the unity government in 2009 clearly states that media reform must be undertaken before an election. But Ngwenya warned that this latest move by BAZ indicates such reform was unlikely. He said this was a sign of BAZ's reluctance to "open up the media space and offer more than piecemeal changes."
"We have witnessed this piecemeal approach to reform clearly in line with what has been happening in Zimbabwe for ten years, with BAZ delivering so little while appearing to give so much," Ngwenya said.
He added: "It would appear we would not be having any meaning democratisation of the media sector before elections."