Zimbabwe's first licensed commercial radio station went live yesterday, ending a 32-year monopoly by the state-controlled broadcaster and meeting some demands to free up the nation's airwaves ahead of proposed elections.
Star FM radio claimed that it is the first independent broadcaster since President Robert Mugabe led the nation to independence in 1980. But that claim is offset by the fact that the station is owned by Zimbabwe Newspapers, publishers of newspaper titles loyal to President Mugabe. The broadcasting authority was criticised for licensing a station closely linked to The Herald newspaper.
Its first bulletin yesterday reflected headlines in recent days from The Herald's stable of newspapers.
The head of the station, the former state broadcaster Admire Taderera, said that Star FM will use traditional news sources including The Herald and other media organisations.
"We are not a state broadcaster and we don't envisage being one. We make our own money from advertising – we are not state-funded," he said. A second broadcast licence has been issued to a former state television personality with strong links to Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. His station is scheduled to go on air by August. At least three other licence applications by independent journalists and music presenters were turned down.
In the past, Mr Mugabe's party has relied on state radio to reach its rural strongholds. A power-sharing agreement with the former opposition leader Morgan after violent and disputed elections in 2008, called for reforms for free broadcasting and the repeal of sweeping media laws ahead of fresh elections.
Mr Tsvangirai's party says the two new radio licences do not meet conditions set under the coalition government agreement.