Government is planning to suspend issuing additional radio licences in the wake of failure by those granted authority to go on air, Parliament heard yesterday.
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Dr Christopher Mushohwe said two out of eight recently-licensed local commercial radio stations were operational while those that were licensed four years ago were struggling to get advertisements.
He said this has forced Government to reconsider the continued issuing of broadcasting licences to radio stations.
Minister Mushohwe was giving oral evidence before a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information, Media and Broadcasting Services chaired by Umzingwane MP Cde William Dhewa (Zanu-PF).
“Furthermore, radio stations are going to face stiffer competition for advertising revenue from television when more television stations come on board after completion of digitisation.
“This scenario may necessitate taking a deliberate policy decision not to issue more radio licences in order to ensure the market sustains the few stations that are already in the market. As the economy improves, more and more players will be licensed,” said Minister Mushohwe.
On communal radio stations, Minister Mushohwe said it was unfair for Government to continue issuing licences to areas that were already receiving broadcasting signal when places like Binga do not have reception since independence.
He said Government’s view was that issuance of community radio stations be done upon the completion of the digitisation programme.
Appearing before the same committee, Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa said funding of digitisation programme could only be raised through sale of dividend spectrum.
He said while it was Treasury’s desire to bankroll the programme, it was unfortunate that Government was grappling with other issues like payment of salaries for civil servants.
Several MPs, however, asked whether there was no contingent plans to fund the programme.
Makonde MP Cde Kindness Paradza (Zanu-PF) said delay in completing the digitisation programme would result in the escalation of costs to the project while some equipment would be made redundant.
Other legislators asked if Government could look for bridging finance while it was waiting to sell the spectrum.
Minister Chinamasa said he had since nullified the intended sale of dividend spectrum to NetOne after realising some challenges.
“It was never envisaged that the project would be paid from Treasury. Selling of dividend spectrum remains Plan One, Plan Two and Plan Three,” said Minister Chinamasa.
Minister Chinamasa said he was, however, agreeable to other creating plans.
“I agree that any delay to any project costs money and such costs are unavoidable,” he said. herald