Sunday, June 24, 2012

Zimbabwe: Radio Now an Alternative Rather Than a Necessity

With the debate raging over new radio licences, advances in technology mean radio is no longer at the core of information dissemination in the world, meaning the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity's refusal to open up the airwaves may be an exercise in futility.

While radio remains an important tool in disseminating information, its influence has been somewhat on the decline with the advent of the mobile phone, DVD players, the internet and satellite television.

Media minister Webster Shamu has indicated that his ministry will not be dishing out new radio and television licences, raising fears that Zanu PF felt that with access to more communication platforms its unease grip on power could be under threat. Only Zimpapers and AB Communications have been granted licences, but critics say this is just a pretence at opening up the airwaves as both companies are aligned to Zanu PF.

But such an approach, some analysts felt, was anachronistic, as Zimbabweans had moved to other platforms. With the region and the world moving towards digitalisation of media space, more channels would be added to the spectrum, meaning licensing should no longer be an issue.

Alongside the internet, mobile phones have also become an alternative for people to receive news and with more people on the platform, the radio is no longer that important.

The Post and Telecommunications Authority of Zimbabwe estimates that nearly three out of every four Zimbabweans have access to mobile phones.

At one time Econet had a programme called "News on Demand" where they would provide news via text message or through a listen-in programme.If that scheme were to be revived, it would reach about six million people, slightly more than the registered number of voters.

This service would reach both urban and rural areas, as far flung as Binga in the far north and Mukumbura in the far east.

Econet says it has about two million people on its mobile broadband facility. While statistics for other networks were not available, this already means that a significant chunk of the population is receiving information through other means, making new radio stations only a bonus rather than a necessity.

However, media rights organisation, Misa, said while the convergence of media platforms was ideal, the first step was the licensing of more radio players and then the country could build on that.

"Our struggles should first make broadcasting accessible to every citizen and in that pace move swiftly to address issues of ICT of which we don't have an ICT regulatory framework as a country," Misa president, Njabulo Ncube said.

"In the long run we yearn for total convergence, but from where we stand, Minister Shamu, sir, play your role in ensuring the opening of the broadcasting environment and stop misleading parliament, cabinet and the people of Zimbabwe on the broadcasting capacity, we have the space to accommodate more players."

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