Zimbabwe: U.S. Defends Pirate Radio, TV Stations

AMERICA has defended setting up transmitters in Botswana to power radio stations such as Voice of America (VOA)'s Studio 7 saying it was in line with both countries' policy to ensure that people had unrestricted access to information.

Studio 7 broadcasts to Zimbabwe over a medium-wave or AM transmitter in Botswana.

However, President Robert Mugabe's administration has on several occasions protested to neighbouring Botswana for allowing what they call "pirate" radio stations to transmit into Zimbabwe from its soil.

It alleges that the stations broadcast "hate messages" to Zimbabwe from the transmission facilities in order to effect regime change.

In an interview in Bulawayo last week, US ambassador to Botswana, Michelle Gavin said there was no problem with the US setting up radio transmitters in Botswana as they were meant to ensure that people were kept abreast with what was happening around the world.

"United States of America and Botswana share respect for freedom of expression, unfettered access to information, so we are working with the government of Botswana in trying to further that principle on a global scale," said Gavin.

She said people should not be denied information because it was a human right. "Access to free information is a universal human right value that government of Botswana respects and the government of USA respects as well," Gavin added.

Zanu PF has said it would remain vigilant against the continuing "threats" from non-governmental organisations, opposition parties and foreign-based Zimbabwean broadcasting stations.

Zanu PF said the West continued to sponsor pirate radio stations, such as the Voice of the People, Short Wave Radio Africa and Studio 7 in order to destablise the country.

Govt to find ways of positively influencing Zimbabweans

Zanu PF has urged the government to find ways of blocking radio stations.

But Gavin said the radio stations were not meant to churn out propaganda against [President] Mugabe and the ruling Zanu PF party.

"I don't think either of the two countries is interested in propaganda," said Gavin.

Botswana recently said the VOA relay transmitter was not constructed to relay to Zimbabwe alone, but to the region as a whole.

"The government of Botswana is unaware of any broadcasts being relayed by VOA from the facility which could be considered as hostile to Zimbabwe," it said. "VOA television as well as radio broadcasts have, moreover, become an accepted part of the southern African broadcasting landscape."

Botswana also said the hosting of international relays was consistent with the principle embedded in the Sadc Protocol on Information, Culture and Sports which provides for a diversity of opinion and free flow of information in the region.

Since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, Zanu PF has monopolised the State media, especially in the broadcasting sector, resulting in lack of diversity of information.

Most Zimbabweans have resorted to listening to pirate radio stations or subscribing to DStv for alternative sources of information.

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