Broadcasting Services Act set for amendment

Y-FM says the licensing clauses infringe on the rights of citizens

Government has revealed plans to amend the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) following a petition by a Bulawayo community radio initiative, Youth FM (Y-FM), after it was denied a license.

In 2021, the community radio initiative petitioned Parliament to debate the licensing of ‘real’ community radio stations after being snubbed by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) in its licensing exercise.

The petition was copied to the Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services ministry.

Y-FM questioned BAZ’s licensing criteria where applicants have to wait for a call for applications by the authority and not vice-versa.

In its submissions, Y-FM said the licensing clauses infringe on the rights of citizens.

“According to the Act, only BAZ determines when to invite applications from prospective broadcasters,” Y-FM said.  

In response to the petition, acting permanent secretary for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Jonathan Gandari on behalf of deputy minister Kindness Paradza agreed that the section should be amended.

“In the proposed amendments of the Broadcasting Services Bill, the relevant section is being amended to allow the BAZ to call for applications twice a year subject to availability of spectrum,” Gandari wrote.

“The Broadcasting Amendment Bill is currently before  the cabinet committee on legislation for consideration.”

Gandari said the BAZ is facing technical limitations due to limited national frequencies.

“Currently, the minister is capaciting those that were licensed at the moment,” he said.

“Once all these are capacitated and are on air, a frequency audit will be carried out to determine availability.

“Licensing of new players will be considered depending on the outcome of the audit.

“So, no new players are being licensed at the moment.”

In their petition, Y-FM said the current licensing framework was anti-development.

Y-FM explained: “This system being used by BAZ to license radios stalls development of community radios because one has to wait for up to five years for a call for applications – a call you won’t even know whether it is community or commercial. 

“Within that time frame, the community radio initiatives lose momentum since they are community funded and rely on volunteers for manpower.” 

Newspapers, argued Y-FM, are not subject to a similar call for licensing.

“Whoever wants to establish a newspaper can do so at any time without waiting for a call for application,” said the community radio initiative.

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