ZACRAS is shocked by the barbaric and retrogressive move of the inclusive government of Zimbabwe to ban the distribution of solar powered radio sets.
The banning of radio sets to marginalised communities is not only undemocratic, but is a clear indication that the inclusive government has no intention to promote media freedom and access to information in this country. The main question we must ask is why our citizens are resorting to alternative means to access information and exercise their right to free expression? Why is it countries like South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and other countries around us are not facing the same “problem? lsn’t it because these countries have opened up the media space and their citizens are not deprived of the necessary platforms where they can freely express themselves, and where information is not a rare commodity?
In a democratic society, of which Zimbabwe claims to be, citizens must have widespread information options and be free to choose what best suites them. Why should citizens be forced to listen to one station and not others? Why should they be restricted to certain gadgets and not others? We affirm that, had Zimbabwe been characterized by a free and conducive media environment boasting of public broadcasters that serves the interest of citizens, flourishing commercial radio and community radios, we wouldn’t be talking about “pirate radio stations”. But because citizens are deprived of these important conventional platforms, they resort to alternative means and sources of information. All this must be blamed on the same government which maintains a tight grip on the media especially broadcasting media.
At a time when a number of regional and international countries are investing in technological advancement for enhanced citizen access to information and participation, our own government finds reason to reward our security services personnel for frustrating efforts by civil society to promote access to information and free expression.
The banning of solar powered radios and subsequent distribution to not only marginalised rural communities but also areas not receiving ZBC transmission is a clear attitude of a government which does not embrace principles of democracy- participation, openness, transparency, accountability and development. The recent arrest of civil society leadership, journalists, and raiding of civil society organizations as in the case of ZESN offices in both Harare and Masvingo, smacks of a government bent on silencing citizens’ voice.
ZACRAS condemns in the strongest of terms this kind of behaviour and calls upon the responsible authorities to reverse this trend, particularly as the nation approaches important processes of the constitutional referendum and subsequent elections. How does the inclusive government expect its citizens to actively participate in these processes without necessary information? If the situation continues to obtain as is, Zimbabweans will be left with no option except to withdraw their participation from these processes.
ZACRAS subscribes to the principles of freedom of expression, citizen participation, democracy, open and accountable society.