Media stakeholders have lamented the recently gazetted broadcasting fees, which they described as prohibitive to new players while maintaining the state’s grip on the airwaves.
The government on February 4 revised fees for broadcasting licences that were previously pegged in United States dollars and set them in the local currency while allowing colleges, universities and other educational institutions to operate radio stations.
The initial application fee for a free to air national radio broadcasting service is now ZWL$42 500, which is non-refundable while the application fee for a public inquiry is ZWL$127 500, also non-refundable.
Educational institutions wishing to run free to air broadcasting services will pay ZWL $21 250 00 non-refundable application fee plus ZWL$42 500 per annum and $510 00 per annum as basic licence fees for 10 years and monthly frequency fees respectively.
According to the new regulations, aspiring community radio station operators will be required to pay a non-refundable application fee of ZWL$8 500 and a basic licence fee which runs for 10 years of ZWL$17 000 per annum.
An amount of $51000 per frequency per month will be charged.
The application fee for commercial radio stations has been set at ZWL$42 500 00 (non -refundable) and ZWL$85 000 00 per annum as a basic licence fee for 10 years.
Players in the free to air national television sector are required to part with ZWL$42 500 00 initial application fee and ZWL$306 000 00 per annum for a 10-year basic licence fee.
Philani Ncube of Ystar FM, a Bulawayo community radio initiative, told CITE the fees gazetted would make it impossible for potential radio players to successfully venture into the broadcasting industry.
“The fees are extremely high, even for commercial radio stations,” he bemoaned.
“I am seeing them shutting down.”
Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) national coordinator, Vivienne Marara, said the fees were rather exorbitant for a country whose economy is underperforming.
“Comparatively speaking, the fees for community radios in Zimbabwe are among the highest in the region,” she lamented.
“For example, application fees in South Africa, Zambia and Ghana range between US$70 and US$300 equivalents compared to ours which stand at US$500 equivalent at bank rate.”
ZACRAS national coordinator added annual broadcasting fees in Zambia, Uganda, Ghana and Lesotho range between US$130 and US$550 equivalents while in Zimbabwe broadcast industry players now have to part with US$1000 equivalent, something she described as prohibitive.
“For a country whose economy is performing poorly, community radio fees need to nominal and within the reach of communities who are already overburdened by other financial demands,” she added.
The Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) also said the fees were excessive and counter-productive.
“It is unlikely that local broadcasting and media start-ups will be able to afford these excessive licensing fees,” said MISA-Zimbabwe in a statement Wednesday.
“More so, when one considers that BAZ (Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe) and government intend to limit foreign ownership and investments in local broadcasting enterprises to no more than 20 percent, this means local investors will have to locally source the funds to establish and run broadcasting entities.”
The media advocacy group said the current licensing regime would act as a barrier to local commercial and private players that have an intention to take part in the media and broadcasting sector.
“Further, the government should not be seen as using licensing as a technical barrier towards entry into the industry,” argued MISA-Zimbabwe.
“The licensing fees as gazetted technically take away the right to establish as they are beyond the reach of many, especially in the areas of content creation and aggregation and community broadcasting. As already noted, the government, hopefully, will not use the cost of establishment as justification to register its own community radio stations and cracking down on online content creators.”