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ZACRAS (Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations) is an

By June Olson,2014-05-17 17:31
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ZACRAS (Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations) is an

ZACRAS-Zimbabwe’s community radio stations in waiting.

By John Masuku

    HARARE, Zimbabwe: ZACRAS (Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations) is a grouping in which countrywide community radio initiatives-not yet licensed to go on air- have joined hands to lobby the government for the loosening of the tight broadcasting laws and generally to advance the cause of community radio countrywide through conceptual and technical training. Community radios worldwide are largely seen as a means of education, self expression and communication while also promoting the community‟s values, history, music and oral tradition.

     Although Zimbabwe got its political independence from British colonialism in 1980 its constitutional claims of being a democracy have been dented by government‟s failure to facilitate the licensing of private players including community radios on the electronic media scene, where the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) has had the monopoly of the airwaves even long after the advent of majority rule in 1980. Zimbabwe still lags behind most of its neighbors like South Africa, Zambia and Malawi who opened up airwaves long ago and have witnessed the flourishing of community radio stations and huge strides in the broadcasting industry.

    In 2001 the government enacted the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) after privately owned Capital Radio successfully challenged ZBC‟s monopoly in the Supreme Court. BSA brought about the establishment of the regulatory board the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) which has not licensed a single private station ever since. The act acknowledges community broadcasting as a service that can be provided in Zimbabwe but states that licences shall be granted only to individuals who are citizens and resident in the country. It further says that no licence shall be granted to a broadcasting service that is wholly or partly funded by foreign donations or contributions. In the act a foreign donation refers to one that is made by a person who is not a permanent resident or citizen of the country. Also excluded from such ownership are many Zimbabweans now based in the Diaspora due to the country‟s economic hardships. Such a stringent law makes it extremely difficult to establish community radio stations in Zimbabwe, considering that most livelihoods are now sustained by donor funding, meager government handouts and the incomes of relatives based outside the country‟s borders.

    “At the inaugural meeting held on December 6 2003 Radio Dialogue of Bulawayo was

    the only fully developed member of the proposed ZACRAS. In other cities and towns, residents had started setting up initiatives within their localities, with the assistance of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) which advocates for media diversity and plurality. In fact the representatives of these initiatives met with MISA, the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) and the Media and Journalism faculty at the National University of Science and Technology to form the association” said Chris

    Mhike, ZACRAS chairperson.

    Zimbabwe is a signatory to the African Charter on broadcasting which serves as a blueprint for policies and laws determining the future of broadcasting and information technology in Africa.

States the charter: “Community broadcasting is broadcasting which is for, by and about

    the community, whose ownership and management ism representative of the community,

    which pursues a social development agenda, and which is non profit. There should be a

    clear recognition, including by the international community, of the difference between

    decentralized public broadcasting and community broadcasting.”

    Potential community broadcasters under the banner of ZACRAS are hopeful that

    Zimbabwe‟s airwaves will be opened up very soon and their current initiatives will be on

    air with a variety of programmes beneficial to their communities. In 2004 BAZ called on

    applicants for a free-to-air narrowcasting license excluding community broadcasting and

    no-one „qualified‟. These initiatives are driven by number of factors emanating from

    socio-political environment and various community needs. For example the well

    established and equipped Radio Dialogue FM, based in Zimbabwe‟s second capital city,

    Bulawayo seeks to provide a channel of communication on the economic, political, social,

    cultural and developmental issues relevant to the community of the city and its environs.

    “Since 2000 Radio Dialogue has been raising awareness on he importance of community

    radio to the residents of Bulawayo. This is done using the broadcasting equipment as

    both recording studio for local artists and a production studio for pre-recorded audio

    programmes on topical issues that are produced with and distributed to the community on

    cassettes and compact discs. All Radio Dialogue activities are aimed at empowering the

    residents of Bulawayo and promoting development through radio” explained Nigel

    Johnson, Radio Dialogue‟s station manager. Community Radio Harare (CORAH), an initiative based in the capital has three main

    programme areas, the media and communications campaign, which strives to link

    CORAH with local, regional and international media channels. CORAH‟s vision is to be

    on air soon with exciting programmes about life in the capital city very soon.

    Wezhira Community Radio based in the south eastern town of Masvingo intends to

    provide a broadcasting service that will accommodate the whole community and

    promote domestic tourism.

    Kumakomo (Within the mountains) is the name of the community radio initiative of the

    country‟s scenic eastern highlands. It has been welcomed even by senior members of the

    ruling Zanu(PF) party who normally dismissed any donor-funded projects and being

    agents of imperialists.

    “Kumakomo Community Radio intends to take the form of its vast community in

    character, and content and be the common meeting point for all tribes focusing on

    empowering them to develop their community and preserve their cultural values. When it

    eventually broadcast live on the airwaves Kumakomo will strive to maintain the editorial

    independence and make the Manicaland community mirror itself” said Chengetai

    Murimwa the station‟s information officer. Other ZACRAS members waiting for Zimbabwe‟s final opening up its airwaves to

    private players are Nkabazwe, Kwelaz and Hwange community radios based in the

    midlands and north western parts of the country. At the moment these community radio

    initiatives are linking their communities and the nation at large through frequent

    newsletters and road shows which are meant to motivate members.

    Said Kholiwe Nyoni, a community radio expert and advocate of community based

    media in general, “ We all wait with fervent hope that real community radio will hit

    Zimbabwe‟s airwaves very soon. The key characteristics of community radios are that

they are decentralized and situated within reach of intended beneficiaries. They play a

    critical social change agenda since they are not driven purely by commercial or political

    motivations but involved in offering a platform for community participation and

    decision-making.”

John Masuku, a media consultant and radio trainer writes about the industry from

    Harare, Zimbabwe. E-mail him jjwpmasuku@telco.co.zw

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