By Divine Dube
AS a community media activist and practitioner, World Press Freedom Day to me means empowering marginalised communities to have their voices heard in the media so that they are able to articulate their aspirations and needs as a community.
What I am thus clamouring for on this day is media decentralisation in Zimbabwe through a media framework which enables communities to establish their own community radios.
The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe has since independence been reluctant to issue out community radio licences in a development seen as a ploy by the government to suppress community voices by curtailing freedom of expression.
Resultantly, underserved communities, particularly ‘ruralites’ are forced to rely only on the mainstream media for news which they are rarely able to access due to a myriad of issues which include lack of air waves for radio and television in rural areas and the expenses associated with buying a newspaper.
But why citizen media?
Citizen media which comprises a community radio can play a significant role at the grass roots level for rural development.
For instance, issues of poverty, agriculture, gender inequality, education, social problems among others could be the focus for programming.
Through media skills training and access to the airwaves, a community radio facilitates a number of capacity building activities.
The exchange of information, networking of groups, the provision of skills and training and these undoubtedly are key elements of developing a community.
Again, a radio facility for a community facilitates the promotion of awareness of community groups and facilities in the area as well as providing the avenue for the empowerment of these groups to use radio to promote themselves and to speak directly to the community.
For its proximate location to its clients a Community Radio serves a local community of its interest.
It is accessible to the community in terms of ownership, decision making and programme output. In majority of cases, programming is produced by the community, with focus on local concerns and issues.
Unlike in the case of the mainstream media, rather than merely talking about the community, the people themselves make the programmes.
This strengthens local culture with the recognition that this is their station; it becomes a forum for a wide diversity of local opinions and views.
If ethnic communities are granted community radio licenses, they will use the medium as an anchor of their local indigenous language and culture.
They will also use it as a platform for collating and disseminating messages that define their shared history and future.
By sharing their language through community radio, they would be able to strengthen their identities and establish a collaborative future of networks for driving their local development.
A community radio will therefore become a leeway and pedestal for cultural development and emancipation. With widespread support, a community radio can help enhance active participation of communities in important national processes for improved citizen-State engagement.
The Zimbabwe government should thus, as we commemorate World Press Freedom Day, immediately consider issuing out radio licenses to local communities to give ordinary citizens voice – which they are denied by the public media to tell their community aspirations and needs.