By Faith Chimutsa
Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Station during the commemorations of World Press Freedom Day held under the theme ‘Journalism Under Digital Siege’, took the opportunity to acknowledge and commend efforts made by the government of Zimbabwe to license 14 community radio stations in the country as part of the drive to complete the three tier broadcasting system.
ZACRAS has over the years been advocating for the licensing of community radio stations, which have so far been licensed across the country’s ten provinces, with the association working closely with government and other partners to ensure that all radio stations go on air.
As part of its mandate the association, is rolling out a series of capacity building programs that will see licensed community radio stations going on air before the end of the Broadcasting Services Act’s recommended 18 month period and providing the crucial, locally produced developmental news ,ZACRAS said in a press.
“Community radio stations have played an important role during the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw some of the stations being part of the government Covid-19 provincial task forces in the process communicating accurate and relevant information”, said ZACRAS National Chairperson Tobias Saratiel .
“The licensing of community radios will go a long way in promoting access to information and participation by marginalised and underrepresented communities in Zimbabwe”, added Tobias Saratiel.
As the country is battling the Covid-19 pandemic, ZACRAS remains cognizant of the fact that there are communities which are not regularly accessing relevant information needed to make critical decisions.
It remains ZACRAS’ conviction that the existence of community radios in Zimbabwe will greatly assist in local and timely dissemination of information on Covid-19 as has been witnessed in other countries such as India and Ethiopia amongst others.
ZACRAS also recommended that the Government of Zimbabwe must promote the rights of community radio journalists by ensuring their safety especially during the election period fully respect editorial and programming independence of community radio station, fully support the sustainability of community radio stations by repealing parts of the Broadcasting Services Act which do not allow community radio stations to advertise, use the Community Broadcasting fund in an equitable manner that will ensure community radio stations benefit and promote foreign investment in broadcasting a situation that will improve the sustainability of community broadcasters.
Furthermore ZACRAS implored the government to make the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe more autonomous and strengthen it to function without political interference,the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ),adopt an open-ended mechanism of licensing of community broadcasting services by accepting applications any time of the year and lower the fees for licenses to ease the financial burden for applicants for community broadcasting service, adopt a user-friendly application process for community broadcasting services that takes into account the technical limitations of community-based organizations that are interested in establishing radio stations and operate in a non-partisan, fair and transparent manner including by opening the adjudication process and the decisions not to license made available to the applicant as well as to the public particularly to allay fears that licenses are being issued favourably to ruling party members and sympathizers alone.