By Tonderai Kwenda
HARARE – They are the country’s brand new radio stations, but they have a familiar ring to the old broadcaster Zimbabweans have been used to for the past three decades. At both Star FM and ZiFM Stereo is an imposing portrait of President Robert Mugabe and their owners are closely linked to Zanu PF.
Unlike ZBC though, the studios are state-of-the-art. I had the opportunity to visit the two new radio stations — Star FM and ZiFM. ZiFM officially launched yesterday. One of the first impression is the security arrangements at the two radio stations.
At Star FM, one can easily bolt straight into the studio because of what seems to be lax security. The security arrangements count to nothing compared with the semi-military set up at ZBC. But the omnipresence of President Robert Mugabe’s portraits is quite telling.
At ZiFM, I was ushered in by two police officers both carrying what looked like AK 47 rifles. Like at Star FM, Mugabe’s portraits are prominent. Here one portrait is actually strategically placed at the front office. At Star FM, the atmosphere was much more relaxed. Folks at the nearby Mbare suburb could easily relate with the station.
The DJs can see through the studio windows what will be happening out in the country’s oldest suburb. As I was being shown around Star FM studios, we were interrupted as it was news time. In the background was the all too familiar mantra that we thought was the preserve of the ZBC stable.
“President Robert Mugabe, the head of state and commander-in-chief of the army …,” a female newsreader belted out instantly reminding me of the now all too familiar statement. For a moment I thought I was at ZBC studios.
So far the station has acquitted itself well on how it has shaped national debate by inviting people from diverse backgrounds. This has largely been done through evening debates where officials from different political parties are invited to offer their views. With elections looming, time will tell whether this will continue.
The verdict is not yet out. The two stations were granted operating licences as part of reforms agreed to by the country’s three main political parties in the power sharing Global Political Agreement, causing an outcry.
While complaints by civil society centred on their ownership structure, the proprietors argue they will broadcast for Zimbabweans and not political parties.
Star FM is owned by the Zimbabwe Newspapers Group, publishers of the state media’s print titles, while ZiFM’s founder Supa Mandiwanzira is Zanu PF’s treasurer in Manicaland Province. Mandiwanzira told the Daily News he would “agree to disagree” on some aspects of his radio station’s news content but will not compromise on business.
“We are in business, we would not compromise on business, we are in this to make money so the listeners will judge us,” said Mandiwanzira, in his spacious office surrounded by huge portraits of Mugabe.
“Our commitment to Zimbabweans is that radio broadcasting in Zimbabwe will never be the same,” said the former ZBC, SABC and Al Jazeera journalist. Daily News
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