Hands off community radio stations, govt warns politicians

Politicians must not meddle with community radio stations in their localities as the law prohibits such, the government’s spokesperson, Nick Mangwana warned.

His sentiments come as some politicians would want to ride on the community stations for political mileage amid revelations that at one of the recently opened community radio stations, a prominent Zanu PF politician’s wife serves on the Board of Trustees.

Responding to questions from journalists at a workshop hosted by the United Nations Zimbabwe on development reporting in Mutare Monday, Mangwana, cautioned politicians not to interfere in the operations of community radio stations.

“Politicians try to milk political mileage from the presence of the community radio stations. You know politicians claim credit for things they haven’t done, so you will find politicians being at the front saying, ‘I brought you this station, this is my brainchild, re-elect me because I brought this.’ That’s the kind of hijacking we have seen,” said Mangwana, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services.

“We called it to order, simply because this has nothing to do with politicians. Politicians can stay at home and the station will carry on because they didn’t invite them but came from policy. But this is natural and expected when dealing with politicians because politicians are politicians.”  

Mangwana, however, acknowledged that one’s political preference should not interfere with their work.

“Firstly, we are polarised as a nation sadly and tragically, so everyone here is affiliated to some political party of some sort in one way or the other, including journalists. That betrays our perception and polarisation,” he said.

“It also means that we say the only person that can be on the board of trustees of a community radio station, is one who hasn’t shown their stripes of which party they belong to. They can be in a closet but are affiliated to some party and the bottom line is everyone is political including me but we are expected to do our jobs professionally. If someone walks in a government office wearing yellow, I have to attend to their needs without any discrimination whatsoever. That’s how its supposed to work.”

Mangwana emphasised that the Broadcasting Services Act stipulates community radio stations should not broadcast political content or they risked losing their licences.

“One, the law prohibits political content, some will like it, others will find that scenario very uncomfortable but it’s the law, simply saying push issues of community interest besides politics because politics divides us,” Mangwana said.

“The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe advertised and employed monitors for each community radio station and each has a monitor who monitors content and compliance with the law. These monitors are very much conversant with each dialect, be it Tonga, slang and other nuances, so if there’s political content or someone is hijacking or pushing a political agenda they will be dealt with by the regulator.”

Mangwana noted if the stations violated the law, a ‘few’ warnings would be issued but the end result will see a community station losing its license.

“Of course, we hope none of them will lose their licence because everyone has been complying with the law. Then people on the board of trustees are not the broadcasters, I haven’t seen a single trustee behind the microphone. If I’m on the board I may have my political thoughts but are not part of the volunteers who are coming from the community to come and push their content,” said the permanent secretary.

“There’s a chance that if you are politically affiliated you will then hijack the station as a board trustee may not happen.”

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