IAMCR Panel: Winston Mano

Part of panel at IAMCR 2014

Broadcasting Monopoly and Politicised Liberalisation of the Airwaves in Africa

Dr Winston Mano, University of Westminster, UK

There are many questions about why monopoly broadcasting lasted longer in some African countries than it did in others. The emerging policy framework for liberalisation of the airwaves is shaped by political and economic interests. A case study of Zimbabwe shows the entrenchment of vested interests at the expense of diversity of voices in broadcasting.

Since coming to power in 1980, and for over three decades, the Zimbabwe government has routinely refused to licence private broadcasters in preference for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH), a state-controlled broadcaster that has been the sole and official provider of radio and television services. Private broadcasting investors, campaigners and activists have had to set up alternative broadcasting stations abroad to reach their audiences in Zimbabwe, where the need for alternative broadcasting is increased. Ironically, although publicly speaking against such ‘pirate stations,’ government officials gave interviews to them.

The agenda for deregulation of the airwaves in Zimbabwe has been forced on the agenda both by forces of democratisation and technological change. Following the coming to power of the 2008 coalition government between Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC and in response to political demands, in 2011 two national free-to-air radio stations were licensed by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ). Unsurprisingly, the new radio owners are aligned to ZANU PF the then dominant partner in the coalition. The policy makers were criticised and there has been court challenges and accusations of favouritism.

After winning the July vote in 2013, ZANU PF has indicated that it will licence 25 community radio stations. The new players are likely to be drawn from the ruling party membership and sympathisers. ZANU is clearly putting together media machinery that could help it sustain political power in future elections.

This paper discusses policy discourses and imperatives on liberalisation of the airwaves in Zimbabwe in terms of media consolidation in the service of political power. It argues that ongoing deregulation and liberalisation of the airwaves in Africa is largely in the service of incumbents and that this in turn is detrimental to democracy. It asks what lessons the Zimbabwe experience may offer for understanding the liberalisation and media conglomeration process in other African countries.