CONTINUED delays in licensing new radio stations has angered prospective broadcasters who feel this was a deliberate ploy by government to keep private players out of the country's closely guarded airwaves.
The government-run Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) has indefinitely postponed scheduled public hearings for 18 shortlisted local commercial radio applicants without proffering reasons.
This was followed by the disqualification of six applicants for reasons ranging from non-payment of the $7,500 application fees to voluntary pull out.
But Zenzele Ndebele, production manager with the Bulawayo based radio initiative, Radio Dialogue said government's reluctance to licence both commercial and community radio stations was deliberate.
"The list of those shortlisted to get licences shows that the government will issue those aligned to them like Supa Mandiwanzira and the ZimPapers radio," Zenzele said, referring to the two Zanu PF-linked entities that were issued with national commercial licences 2012.
Ndebele was briefing guests during the Yearly Radio Day commemorations at the University of South Africa's Witwatersrand last week.
He was up in arms with the continued failure by the two players to install 25 transmitters throughout the country to satisfy their national broadcaster status.
Ndebele was adamant the two national radio operators must first meet the requirements of their current licences before seeking to expand their activities.
He said government's steep application fees tended to eliminate prospective players who may not have the financial muscle to stay the course.
"The government does not want to issue licences," he said, "It's about R50,000 to apply for a commercial radio stations.
â€œHow can you expect, for example, a small town like Plumtree with less than 10,000 people, with no industry to enable such a station to survive in such an environment?
"How many years will it take to recover that R50,000? The government is afraid of its own people that is why they do not want to give them licences."
Ndebele decried the stringent operating environment for media players in Zimbabwe, adding that Zanu PF's simmering succession battles had spilled into the media as was witnessed by current Information Minister Jonathan Moyo's charm offensive.
Radio Dialogue is among five informal broadcasters on the increasingly popular ChannelZim platform.
ChannelZim is accessible on both free-to-air satellite decoders and on the internet. Government has derisively referred to the stations as pirate.
Speaking during the same occasion, Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) chair, Kudzai Kwangwari was also frustrated with Zimbabwe's repressive operating environment.
"The Information Ministry permanent secretary, George Charamba, recently told us that ZACRAS had to disband because we have made so much noise and they know what we want and there is no need for our existence," he said.
"If there is a Zimbabwean based out of the country who wants to sponsor a radio initiative it is said to be foreign funding even if they are Zimbabwean.
"The environment is prohibitive. Media suffers where there is democratic deficiency because leaders are afraid that people would use the community radio stations to engage them and the leaders about service delivery and other political issues.
"They will issue these pseudo stations to silence the people; those who have the potential to continue with government propaganda will get the licence."
Kwangari said there were now 22 community radio initiatives in the country which continue to wait for elusive licensing opportunities. He vowed to lead his organisation press for licences.
By South Africa Correspondent: http://www.newzimbabwe.com/