The Zimbabwe Government has threatened to cripple a new television station that was expected to start broadcasting from neighbouring South Africa on Saturday.
Sponsors of the new station — 1st TV — said it will be accessible to Zimbabweans through the free-to-air satellite platform.
The station has promised to “provide impartial, factual news to the people of Zimbabwe as well as broadcasting popular films, soap operas and comedies”.
Zimbabwe only has one state broadcaster, which controls two television channels and four radio stations.
Two commercial radio stations were licensed last year but they have close links with President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party.
Zanu PF also maintains a tight grip on the state broadcaster that has been accused of spreading hate speech against the party’s opponents.
President Mugabe’s spokesman today told state media that the government was exploring ways of crippling the new television station.
He said the government would also engage the South African government over the matter, which he said was against Zimbabwe’s interests.
“We will be taking decisions mindful of the need to cripple this pirate television broadcast station,” Mr George Charamba said.
“We have been aware of the technical corroboration between VOA (Voice of America) and Sentech. What we did not expect was this expansion of the corroboration.
“Also we are not very sure if the South African Government is aware of what its parastatal is doing to hurt Zimbabwean interests.”
VOA hosts a radio station — Studio 7 — that beams into Zimbabwe through shortwave and is run by journalists forced out of the southern African country by repressive media laws.
There are two other “pirate” radio stations operating from South Africa and the United Kingdom, which broadcast into Zimbabwe.
Zanu PF claims that the stations are sponsored by governments that want to topple President Mugabe from power.
But those advocating the opening up of the airwaves say if the broadcasting sector is liberalised there would be no need for the so-called pirate stations.
The new television station said it was filling a void caused by the state broadcaster’s monopoly.
At the same time, South Africa’s chief envoy on Zimbabwe’s political crisis conceded today there were challenges in the run-up to key polls, a day before regional mediators meet to discuss the vote.
Thousands of Zimbabwean security forces couldn’t draw their mark in chaotic early voting three weeks before the July 31 elections to end a four-year unity government.
“The process has got challenges, we can’t deny that because we’ve seen what info has been coming out during the special vote,” said Lindiwe Zulu, who heads the mediation process after deadly polls in 2008.
During early voting last Sunday and Monday polling stations opened late and many lacked indelible ink, stamps, voter rolls and ballot papers and boxes.
“If things didn’t go right in the special vote, those things need to be looked into by the time of elections on July 31,” Zulu told AFP.
President Mugabe called early polls, hoping to prolong his 33 years in power, despite demands for reform by his archrival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
But Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change said this week’s “disorganised” early vote showed the country’s election commission wasn’t up to the task.
Additional reporting by AFP