The Media landscape in Zimbabwe is a complex and hegemonic one. Led by the corrupt Robert Mugabe for decades, the media in Zimbabwe has been tightly produced and distributed to echo certain political sentiments. Most of the widely broadcast media, often by Zimbabwe Broadcast Corporation (ZBC) is ridden with political propaganda often eulogizing Mugabe, it is also heavily bias and spreads vitriolic Anti-British and Anti-American ideology (Nyoni, 2007).
The corrupt political agenda of Zimbabwe has resulted in several civil societies, opposition parties and other pro-democracy movements becoming unhappy with the suppression of their voices and their restricted access to the public sphere (Ndlela, 2010).
It’s said that journalists are often harassed, beaten up, arrested and charged for various ‘crimes’ by the state. Foreign media outlets have often been denied permission to operate in the country, or in some cases arrested and deported. This has happened to the BBC (Nyoni, 2007).
Alternative media then, in this case, must follow Gramsci’s idea of Counterhegemony. This, in essence, is a revolt against the controlling and indoctrinating behaviour of a dominant force – in this case; the media. Artz and Kamalipour (2012) define media hegemony as ‘an institutionalized, systematic means of educating, persuading and representing subordinate classes to particular cultural practices within the context of capitalist norms’. In contrast then, Woo-Young (2005) describes community media as ‘a public sphere where counter-discourse is produced and consumed by counter-publics who had their voices supressed by the existing social order’. Community radio in the city of Bulawayo provides exactly that. Radio is the most-used medium in Zimbabwe as access to other media content such as newspapers is limited due to illiteracy, cost and lack of proficient distribution (Ndlela 2010).
Despite its popularity, creating and receiving radio broadcast is not particularly straightforward. Individuals in several villages across Zimbabwe only have access to Government-owned radio stations. This, of course, gives the ruling party unparalleled opportunity to disseminate their propaganda and also contributes to ZBC’s monopoly in the market.
Despite this, it is estimated that 28 Community Radio Stations have been instigated across Zimbabwe. The most successful of these being ‘Radio Dialogue’. Founded in 2001, its key aims were ‘to establish a community radio station in Bulawayo that would give its people a platform to tell their stories (OSISA, 2011).
Radio Dialogue has, like many similar organisations, faced several hurdles during it’s creation process.
Government legislation is, perhaps, the biggest challenge facing up-and-coming Community Radio Stations. The ‘Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act’ (AIPPA) is regularly used to hinder the attempts of those who seek to change the media landscape. The ‘AIPPA’ has led to the closure of four private newspapers by the government, all of which coincidentally happened to be ‘Anti-Mugabe’. There are several other factors that stand in the way of organisations like Radio Dialogue. Things such as requiring unrealistic shareholding structures, unreasonably high licence fees and burdensome application and registration procedures add to the mounting list of issues that an embryonic organisation has to face in Zimbabwe. In addition, many journalists are deterred from the media sector by threats of surveillance, imprisonment and blackmail by the Zimbabwean Government (Nyoni, 2007).
However, despite these issues, Radio Dialogue has become something of a success. They began conducting interviews with local people about relevant topics such as theft, water shortage and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Craftily, and to avoid the legislation and licence rules, they record shows onto tapes and CDs and then distribute them to taxis and buses as a way of avoiding live broadcast regulations. The unpredicted success of Radio Dialogue has led it to be backed financially by the ‘Open Society Initiative for South Africa’ (OSISA, 2011).
Things seemed to be looking up for small community radio organisations in Zimbabwe after a Supreme Court order in September 2002 ruled ZBC’s monopoly of the market ‘Null and Void’ voicing hopes for a more plural media ecosystem in the country. However, in the same year the ‘Broadcasting Services Act’ was brought in by Mugabe’s corrupt and beleaguered government making it ‘virtually impossible’ for independent community stations to obtain the necessary licence to broadcast (OSISA, 2011).
The landscape then, as I mentioned initially is an extremely complex one, riddled with legislative, practical, ethical and financial issues for community media outlets such as unrealistic licencing fees and indoctrinating governments. Despite this, organisations like Radio Dialogue are doing their best to make the media landscape in Zimbabwe more inclusive and counter-hegemonic, spreading unbiased and fair viewpoints across the country.
(Nyoni, 2007) – Nyoni, K. – The Khanya Journal – The need for Alternative Broadcast Media in Zimbabwe http://khanyajournal.org.za/the-need-for-alternative-broadcast-media-in-zimbabwe/
(Ndlela 2010) – Howley, K. Understanding Community Media – Chapter 7 Alternative Media and The Public Sphere in Zimbabwe (SAGE Publications) – https://brage.bibsys.no/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/134166/Ndlela.pdf?sequence=1
(Woo-Young, 2005) – Howley, K. Understanding Community Media 2010 (SAGE Publications) Pp88 –https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=3fBv392VI_UC&dq=Woo+Young+alternative+media&q=hegemony#v=snippet&q=hegemony&f=false
(OSISA, 2011) – Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa – A decade of Radio Dialogue – http://www.osisa.org/media-and-ict/zimbabwe/decade-radio-dialogue
(Artz & Kamalipour 2012) – Artz, L. & Kamalipour, Y R. The Globalization of Corporate Media Hegemony (SUNY Press) Pp16/17 – https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=34gdSf-KQtsC&oi=fnd&pg=PR3&dq=media+hegemony&ots=xvExybFCDd&sig=cAb5FylHzHS2yBNsmKARqoeG80U#v=snippet&q=hegemony&f=false