HARARE - For the first time in 32 years Zimbabwe has a privately-owned FM radio station. Star Radio, which went on the air Monday, was awarded a license last year by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe. The station is owned by the company that operates the country's major newspapers, which politically support President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.
Star Radio hit Zimbabwe’s airwaves Monday afternoon, making it the first privately-owned radio to broadcast on the FM frequency. Radio listeners have been waiting for the station since last year when the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe awarded Star Radio a license along with a company believed to have links with President Mugabe's family.
Zimbabwe’s national anthem followed the countdown to air. And then Admire Taderera, Star Radio's manager, made the announcement.
"For the last 32 years Zimbabwe has only known one broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, who have been forerunners in this industry. Last year, Zimpapers was awarded a license. Today we witness the commencement of that broadcast. We are here as part of the history makers," Taderera said.
But for Nhlanhla Ngwenya, the head of Misa-Zimbabwe, an organization which fights for media plurality in southern Africa, Star Radio is unlikely to make real history.
"So while it is good for Zimbabwe that we now have another player in the broadcasting industry, we doubt that its content will translate to an alternative platform form of communication. It would have been good if new player was going to bring diversity. As far as we can see, and going by the remarks [by Mugabe's spokesman], we can only see an extension of propaganda empire," Nhlanhla said.
The remarks he is referring to were made by presidential spokesperson George Charamba earlier this month. He said Star Radio must be patriotic. In Zimbabwe, “patriotism” is usually associated with glorifying President Mugabe and ZANU-PF policies.
After the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe board awarded Star Radio a license last year, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai described the move as a legal nullity, saying the board was not properly constituted.
But minister of information Webster Shamu, an ally of Mugabe, dismissed Tsvangirai’s assertions in parliament this year.
Star Radio joins five other radio stations on the air, all owned by the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
Zimbabwe's media laws make it tough to start a broadcasting or publishing company. Besides paying high application fees, the company must go through a tedious bureaucratic and political process. As a result, most radio stations targeting Zimbabwe operate from outside the country, broadcasting through short-wave radio or the internet.