“The licensing of the new stations has simply amounted to the expansion of the media that are directly under state control and associated with the ruling elite,” said the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Zimbabwe.
On Tuesday the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe said it had licensed five companies to run eight new urban-based radio stations.
MISA-Zimbabwe said the family of one of President Robert Mugabe’s cabinet ministers, Supa Mandiwanzira, owns majority shares in AB Communications, which will operate two of the new stations. AB Communications already operates the ZiFM station in Harare.
Two state-owned companies – Kingstons and Zimpapers – were also granted licences on Tuesday.
Kingstons, the state bookseller, will run two radio stations in Harare and Kariba. Zimpapers will operate a new station in the eastern city of Mutare. It already runs commercial radio station Star FM in the capital.
The other two companies licensed to run commercial radio stations are Fairtalk Communications and Ray of Hope.
Press reports say the chief executive officer of Fairtalk Communications is Qhubani Moyo, a former opposition official who is now a Zanu-PF supporting columnist.
Ray of Hope is owned by Munyaradzi Hwengwere, the former chief executive officer of the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
MISA-Zimbabwe accused Mugabe’s government of trying to “dominate and monopolise the broadcast media space under the guise of private ownership.”
The watchdog also said the licensing application fees of US10,000 had proved prohibitive and would result in “elitist ownership of the broadcasting sector”.
Of the 18 shortlisted applicants, six had to drop out of pre-licence public hearings because they could not raise the fees on time.
MISA-Zimbabwe said the equivalent fees paid by radio licence applicants in South Africa were less than US300.