Commercial radio stations which were licenced in March last year and are yet to go on air should broadcast or surrender their licences to other players, a Member of Parliament has said.
A Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information Media and Broadcasting Services member, Kindness Paradza, made the call which is likely to bring pressure to bear on licence holders to go on air, more than a year after they were licensed by authorities.
Last March, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) licensed eight commercial radio stations to broadcast within a 40km radius of their locality.
So far, only Ya FM, based in Zvishavane and Mutare's Diamond FM have gone live.
Skyz Metro FM (Bulawayo), Breeze FM (Victoria Falls) Hevoi FM (Masvingo), Faya FM (Gweru), KE100.4FM (Harare) and Nyaminyami FM (Kariba) are yet to start broadcasting.
Paradza told journalists during a belated Word Press Freedom Day commemoration in Bulawayo recently that there was no need for the licensees to hold on to their licences if they could not deliver on their promises.
"They can just go and surrender those licences because they have failed," said Paradza.
"Some of them have discovered that the (broadcasting) equipment is expensive and whoever wanted to sponsor them is no longer willing to do so," said Paradza, suggesting that the licences should be given to potential players who came second in the bids.
BAZ chief executive officer, Obert Muganyura, also weighed in on the matter and said the radio stations had an obligation to launch within the stipulated timeframe of 18 months of being granted licences, failure of which they would lose their licences.
This means that the radio stations, which are yet to go on air, have up to September this year to launch or lose their licences.
Some licenced broadcasters are still awaiting delivery of their equipment from outside the country, but others are on the receiving end of the biting economy which has forced many entrepreneurs out of business.
Muganyura said once the 18 months grace period for the idle stations lapses, BAZ would simply advertise for new bidders resulting in automatic loss of those licences.
Skyz Metro FM chief executive officer, Qhubani Moyo, told the Financial Gazette this week that they would be on air before the expiry of the 18 months.
"We have been utilising the 18 months to come up with a proper and profitable business model given the existing challenges in our economy," said Moyo who cited the lack of financial support from financial institutions as a major constraint.
Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe broadcasting and information technology programmes officer, Koliwe Nyoni-Majama, said her organisation was equally concerned with the delays by the commercial broadcasters to start operating, adding that they would soon be engaging them on the way forward.
Media pressure groups have in the past said the government should instead have prioritised community radios instead of commercial ones.
Community radio activist, Zenzele Ndebele said it was sad that some people who denied others a chance of getting licences were now failing to broadcast.
"One would wonder if they were genuine or they were fronting for some forces in government to block those who genuinely wanted licences and had resources to operate. Why apply when you don't have money? " asked Ndebele.
Thomas Sithole, station manager for the Plumtree-based Getjenge FM community radio initiative said it was regrettable that members of the public were being robbed of the plurality and diversity in the country's broadcasting sector which for years has been dominated by the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
He predicted a bleak future for the commercial broadcasting sector, arguing that the few operating stations were already struggling owing to a failing economy.
"We are most likely going to witness a situation where some will return their licences citing operational challenges, while those that have not taken off might never take off at all since capital is hard to come by now in the country," said Sithole.
Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations national coordinator, Vivienne Marara said it was high time government promoted the capital intensive broadcasting sector, while also allowing foreign investment into the industry if it is to grow.
"This may also mean reducing the costs for applying for a licence and ultimately fees paid to run the station. This will also mean that when a call for community radio applications is made, communities are not excluded from applying for a licence and ultimately running a station on the basis of failing to raise enough funds," said Marara.
Meanwhile, Hwange Central Member of Parliament, Brian Chuma, told journalists in Mutare during a belated World Press Freedom Day commemoration organised by MISA-Zimbabwe that Parliament has limited powers to initiate, coordinate and align laws to the new Constitution because most of the powers are vested in the Executive.
Chuma who is also a law graduate, said the country's legal and political system vests power in the Executive in terms of the initiation of the laws while Parliament only chips in to formalise the process.
The Hwange Central legislator was responding to questions from journalists on delays in aligning media laws.
"People think that Parliament has so many powers; that's a misconception. There are so many rules and regulations and technicalities that scupper efforts.
"People tend to blame Parliament for the non-alignment of laws because we know that laws are made in Parliament. Yes they are made in Parliament, but they come, in terms of initiation, from the Executive," said Chuma.
"Parliament actually plays a formal role, the law making process. The initiation stages actually come from the Executive. That's how the system works, laws come from the Executive and the Parliament vote them into existence," he added.
Concerns have been raised over the continued delays in aligning not only media laws but a raft of other statutes to the new charter which came into effect in 2013.
Over 300 laws need to be aligned to the Constitution.
While the European Development Fund has disbursed US$1,28 million to fast-track the process, government has been moving at a snail's pace.
"What we have gathered is that there is lack of political will from the Executive. Why are laws not coming to Parliament? The only thing that has been done is the National Prosecuting Act. That is the only Act that came to Parliament, in terms of alignment. The rest are just bills that are rumoured to be there and nothing else," said the Hwange Central MP.
Quizzed why the opposition legislators are not making use of the Private Member Bill provided for in the Constitution, Chuma said they suffered from a numerical disadvantage in Parliament.
"What I'm emphasising is that this alignment of laws into the new Constitution is more of a process that is more vested into the hands of the Executive. Those that are in power are the people who then make laws to government in order to meet their goals that they laid bare when they were campaigning to get in power.
"So for me to actually amend laws and provide for the necessary framework, especially coming to the media sector, is actually a murder; we attribute it more to the Executive than the legislator.
"I'm an opposition Member of Parliament. In this government, where another party, ZANU-PF has a majority, there is no way in this world that me, as a member of the opposition, can come up with a private members bill, which will be passed. It's just not possible," he said.
The MDC-T's influence in Parliament was heavily weakened after 21 of its legislators were expelled last year.
This reduced the opposition party's seats in Parliament from 91 to 70, while ZANU-PF has 197 MPs.
Source : allafrica.com