(MISA/IFEX) - The government is to appoint an advisory panel to review the legal environment of broadcasting in Zimbabwe, taking into consideration the constitutional requirements and advances in media technology. The minister of state for information and publicity, Jonathan Moyo, said in Harare on 18 September 2000 that this will be the first step in opening up the airwaves.
The National Media and Advisory Panel would comprise experts in all aspects of broadcasting, including social scientists and experts in new media technology, such as satellite broadcast, internet and terrestrial broadcasting. Moyo said that out of this process, the government would initiate a green and white paper to enable the public to make an input into the policy. This policy would be incorporated into legislation. He went on to say the policy was expected to be taken to parliament no later than the second session.
On the liberalisation of the airwaves, Moyo said: "Liberalisation is a political and not a legal concept. Taken to its extreme, it might mean nutties should be given as much room as Christians, and certainly any democratic society cannot tolerate that...what the government is committed to is ensuring that we come up with a legal information and broadcasting environment that opens up for more local participation and also complies with the provisions of the constitution."
Commenting on Capital Radio's urgent application to the Supreme Court in April this year, Moyo said it would be a dangerous precedent to have the courts usurp the powers of the government in such a sensitive area.
Since August, the government has been giving mixed messages regarding the opening up the aiwaves. On 11 August, Moyo told a press conference that the government was not considering opening the airwaves. Instead, he said the government was urgently reviewing ways and means of ensuring that the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) was fully empowered to carry out its public mandate, by meeting technological and material requirements in keeping with global broadcasting trends.
On 26 August, at MISA-Zimbabwe's annual general meeting, the minister said that the government was not planning to liberalise the airwaves because it had already done so soon after independence. Moyo said that as a result of that liberalisation, there had been many players in the broadcasting section, some of whom had folded.
On 14 June, the Zimbabwe Supreme Court rejected an urgent application by a prospective independent radio station, Capital Radio, to nullify section 27 of the Broadcasting Act. The court also rejected the demand by Capital Radio that it be issued a licence to broadcast in Zimbabwe within ten days.
In its judgement, the court dismissed the application, saying there was no urgency to issue a broadcasting licence to Capital Radio since the government had taken enough steps to amend the Broadcasting Act.
The application by Capital Radio with respect to overturning certain sections of the Broadcasting Act will still proceed as a normal application, but no date for the hearing has been set.