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Govt must open up media space: Coltart

Former cabinet minister David Coltart has called on the government to open up the airwaves to more players and ensure the country’s media remains impartial and independent from state control which is in line with Section 61 of the Constitution.

Section 61 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, including media freedom.

In an interview with CITE, Coltart said the new constitution clearly states that state media should be objective and allow diverse opinions in favour of freedom of expression. 

“Prior to the 2013 Constitution, it was stated that ZBC should be an impartial body. In this new constitution, it clearly states all state media must be impartial, independent and the editorial policy must allow a diversity of opinion,” said Coltart. 

“Ideally if we are going to respect Section 61 of the Constitution, not only should the state media like Herald, Chronicle, ZBC become genuinely impartial, but other broadcasting organisations should be allowed to run independently.” 

He said there has been no change since independence as the county’s radio stations are still tightly controlled. 

“39 years after independence we don’t have a single truly independent radio station, all of them are tightly controlled,” said Coltart. 

“If you look at the composition of the board, they are either linked to ZANU-PF or the outlook of the radio is very community-oriented and is political.” 

The former minister pointed out that unlike Zimbabwe’s neighbouring countries, there is no national radio chat show that citizens can independently call in and discuss political issues freely without fear. 

He said the ZANU- PF led government holds control of electronic media as it is aware that electronic media is critical in providing citizens with information. 

“70% of people in Zimbabwe live in rural areas and they have limited access to newspapers and the internet, so they rely more on radio other than any medium for information,” said Coltart. 

“This is why ZANU-PF controls radio because they can control the feed of information to these people in rural areas who constitute the overwhelming majority of the electorate.” 

The opposition politician pointed that the media is an important entity in the country as one of its aims is to investigate and expose corruption mainly by politicians and opening up the airwaves will make sure it accomplishes its constitutional mandate with no restrictions. 

The Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) programmes director Kudzai Kwangwari said the government was sitting on 28 community radio initiatives that are awaiting registration. 

In May, the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Monica Mutsvangwa said the government was committed to opening up the airwaves.

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