By Tafadzwa Muranganwa.
ACCORDING to the Centre for International Media Assistance (Cima), “free media play an integral role in fostering democracy and development and have the ability to transform a number of critical areas, including government accountability, empowerment of women and minorities, and education”.
Could the assertion above imply that Zimbabwe does not have a free broadcasting environment as many of radio’s vital roles mentioned by Cima above do not seem to sufficiently reflect on local radio stations, be they public or private.
When the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) opened up airwaves to new players, many however, seem to have been allocated licences along partisan lines thus content, which is critical for the socio-economic development of this country, remained mostly unchanged.
Some ardent radio listeners have switched off their radios amid trivialities that many of these radio stations are airing day in and day out.
Fixation on Popular Culture
That Zimdancehall has taken the music industry by storm can’t be emphasised, and most radio stations have been caught up in the frenzy. Power FM has a slot for the genre every Wednesday. ZiFM, on the other hand, carries two slots weekly on Thursdays and Saturdays, and currently these are hosted by disc jockeys such as Etherton Beanie, Abisha Palmer, among others.
Star FM features Dancehall Remedy presented by Godfatha Templeman and Gary B. This genre has done well, though, as most of the Zimdancehall artistes have made the genre a business and are living well off it. However, there has been much emphasis on entertainment on local radio stations when global trends in the broadcasting media are shifting towards being more informative and educative.
It is why there has been headache among political players particularly the opposition on how they can tap into the potential high number of first time voters come 2018, as most of these young folks are not cognisant of the various political processes and why they are important. This could be because they have not heard radio programmes specifically targeting that demographic group and appraising it on critical political processes.
Business at the Expense of Listeners
Star FM is the first commercial radio station in Zimbabwe and while its mandate is to make profit, the current intimacy with Pentecostal churches who some call a gosperenuers where it gives them airplay for a fee is now worrying many listeners, and the station has now been the subject of ridicule on social media. Hardly a day passes without a sermon or an advert from these popular Men of God.
In pursuing business, some newly licensed commercial community radio stations like the Zimpapers-owned Diamond FM in Mutare, Hevoi FM in Masvingo, and YA FM in Zvishavane have begged government to review its licencing fee.
What can be deciphered from this is that Zimbabwe is yet to have genuine community radio stations whose mandate should be to champion community development through information dissemination. This has seen a clarion call by the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) for government to urgently license community radio stations
In a statement recently, Zacras said: Commercial stations have a profit motive while community radio is people centered and development oriented, hence, there is still a need to license community radios.
Community radio, therefore, remains not only a critical tool for mobilising communities towards the generation of home grown solutions, but also a tool for promoting socio-economic and political inclusion.
Why there might be a strong-hand in controlling media content at these local radio stations has also been a worrying observation but failure by some radio presenters to grasp fundamental issues which could change society’s perception has been cited. Veteran radio broadcaster and former ZBC staffer John Masuku raised concern on how he has noticed some of the seasoned presenters being unaware of certain pieces of information that should not be missed by anyone in the profession.
I have on numerous occasions phoned some of the guys I worked with who are still with ZBC to correct some of their staff who would have adulterated information live on air. I think quality control has plummeted to low levels at ZBC and even the new stables, a bemoaned the experienced broadcaster. Radio presenting apart from being eloquent also needs research which most of the radio presenters on our local radio stations do largely lack.
The Language Factor
Most local radio stations broadcast using English language, despising local languages. It’s a concern that has been raised by most media experts with even the permanent secretary in the ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, George Charamba, at one time encouraging newly-established national radio stations to factor in on vernacular languages, saying it was mandatory.
But till now, ZiFM and Star FM broadcast most of their programmes in English which is the reason why Radio Zimbabwe continues to rule the roost in terms of listenership. So the glaring lack of content on local radio stations remains a concern that needs urgent redress.
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