Access to Information key to sustained societal development

By Owen Dhliwayo

In any given society, media is a tool that promote and create awareness. This ultimately make it an agent of community development and social change. Community is loosely defined as a group of people with unique shared values, behaviours and practices.

However, most of these communities fall under marginalized geographical conditions, and they have limited or no access to information.

Thus, they suffer from lack of communication. In this day and age, information and communication is power which is vitally important for rural development.

On 15 September 2021, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) announced the licensing of eight (8) community broadcasting radio stations. This is indeed a welcome development. The community radio stations that were given licenses included Bukalanga Community Radio (Mangwe), Matobo Community Radio (Plumtree), Chimanimani Community Radio (Chimanimani) and Vemuganga Community Radio (Chipinge) just to name a few.

Community radio is a medium that is owned and controlled by the community, and broadcast programs that are related or peculiar to the community. According to the Updated Audience Assessment and Engagement Plan report, ZBC radio has an estimated reach of 4 million audience whilst Zimpapers Radio has an estimated of 1.7 million audiences. This leaves a large cohort of inaccessible communities with radio programs as well as information.

The licensed community radio stations must definitely reflect the culture, norms and values of each of the community in which they are socially embedded. Thus, they will help in the democratization of communication through local people’s participation in various social context in Mangwe, Plumtree, Chimanimani and Chipinge districts.

However, these community radios must endeavor to create sustainable programming, which is to focus on localism through involving local people. On the other hand, they must guard against local elites who may want to use such powerful platforms for personal selfish interests.

Community radio stations must guard jealously their credibility as sources of reliable information. This is heavily dependent on how much their orientation matches local people’s shared values and sensitivities. The communities in which these community radio stations are located can be termed as highly conservative. Therefore, they need to provide programming that is consistent and based on the socio – cultural context.

The licensing authority might have given these licenses as a way to silence some vocal activists but knowing fully that they may lack capacity to sustainably operate. This is a moment to justify the clamoring for community radio licensing, which journey has been littered with difficulties and a lot of uncertainties.