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Zimbabwe to Award 2 Commercial Radio Licenses

Zimbabweans listen to a radio for an announcement of election results in Umguza April 1, 2008 (file photo).
Zimbabweans listen to a radio for an announcement of election results in Umguza April 1, 2008 (file photo).

The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Authority has held the first of four public hearings to scrutinize applications for two commercial radio licenses. But there are concerns the licenses have already been awarded to allies of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, and that the hearings are a sham.

KissFM was the first of four finalists for two commercial radio licenses to present their bid in a public hearing held in Harare. But CEO Musi Khumalo was unwilling to speak about the bid, or what the company hopes to achieve if their application is successful.

"Really I feel so bad. I am one of you, but this is a bid under consideration so it might not be appropriate for us to speak. Not right now," said Khumalo.

KissFM would be funded by regional banking group BancABC, and bank CEO Douglas Munatsi would be a major KissFM shareholder.

Another applicant is Radio VOP (Voice of the People), which currently broadcasts two hour-long shows daily into Zimbabwe on Radio Netherlands Worldwide. The third applicant is ABC, widely believed in Zimbabwe to be a project of the Mugabe family. And the last is the state-owned Zimbabwe Papers group which publishes The Herald, a newspaper aligned to President Mugabe's ZANU-PF.

Some observers say the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) has already decided to award the two licenses to ABC and Zimbabwe Papers. They say this would make a mockery of a requirement in Zimbabwe's 2008 global political agreement to open the airwaves to independent operators. That agreement led to the establishment of Zimbabwe's unity government.

However, BAZ chairman Tafataona Mahoso says the process is being conducted in terms of the law and that the decision is yet to be made.

"It is a public process and it is done according to law. As soon as we finish the adjudication, the adjudication begins after the last hearing and then we do the adjudication. This is one of four I think shortlisted and they are publicly known," said Mahoso.

The hearing was disrupted several times by a ZANU-PF-aligned group calling themselves Wealth to the Youth. Spokesman Thomas Katewera told VOA young people should be the ones who get the licenses.

"Young journalists should be the ones who actually get licenses to go into this sector as an empowerment move," said Katewera. "This is what is bringing us here. To lobby for our young journalists who are members of youth, to enter this, and licenses should be given to them. This is what we are talking about."

Some observers say it is unlikely the licenses will be issued before next year. Once that happens, it will break the monopoly of the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.