Friday, April 3, 2020

Dead air for community radio  as BOCRA tunes in Campus FM

The government has shunted aside more than half a dozen applications for community radio station licences and is instead proposing awarding radio licences to tertiary institutions.Sunday Standard has raised documents showing that the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) has already set in motion plans for the proposed tertiary radio stations.In a discussion paper titled: “Campus radio licensing framework” the regulator notes that campus radio has the ability to enhance the value of education offered. “With graduate unemployment hitting crisis level, it is important that institutions of higher learning are able to train students in order to make them ready for the job market, not only as employees but as entrepreneurs as well,” BOCRA stated in the document.

It also stated that the academic institutions have also made several requests for terrestrial Campus radio licenses hence BOCRA proposal to introduce Campus Radio licensing. In 2017 the then Minister of Presidential Affairs, Eric Molale told Parliament that the current Communications Regulatory Authority Act of 2012, does not specifically provide for community radio stations and no definition has been provided.“Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) has confirmed to me that from 2008 to date, they have received 8 applications falling in the community broadcasting license classification,” Molale said at the time.  However, Molale said, even though all of these applications came from the Gaborone Region, none of them has been approved because “they (BOCRA) say they had not floated any tender inviting applications for such types of licenses.” “BOCRA has as of now not floated any tenders inviting applications for such tenders,” Molale also said at the time. 

He added: “I say BOCRA says it did not consider those because they have neither floated nor asked for application in that regard. So it has been difficult for me to get the reason.”  At the time Molale was responding to Selibe Phikwe legislator Dithapelo Keorapetse who had sought to know among others an update on the policy of Government on community radio stations and their licensing.  He also sought to establish the number of applications received for community radio stations, the communities or geographical areas applicants sought to operate at and the number of successful, failed or deferred applications respectively. In 2028 during National Broadcasting Conference participants called on BOCRA to consider licensing community radio stations in order to increase information reach across the country. At the same conference former chairman and National Broadcasting Board member, Masego Mpotokwane, was quoted as having said the issue of community radio stations was polluted by fears that the stations will lead to civil strife as it happened in Rwanda in the mid 90’s. 

According to the current BOCRA discussion paper, Campus Radio Broadcasting are radio services that are provided within a tertiary school campus and its related establishments and is targeted primarily to the student population of that particular institution.

Explaining the rationale behind the proposed campus radio stations, BOCRA said it “held a Consultative National Broadcasting Conference (NBC) in October 2018.” BOCRA conveniently did not mention any plans to consider licensing community radio stations in the same document. Despite the fact that at the same conference BOCRA was also called to consider community radio stations, BOCRA did not mention that in its discussion paper save to say “ The consultative NBC2018 called for licensing of campus radios in order for universities to have a training platform for media students to ready them practically for the market.”The document said that “The Authority has also received applications from different tertiary schools in the past, requesting to operate radio stations.”  BOCRA added that it also undertook a market review in 2018 where an assessment of FM broadcasting was done for both commercial and non-commercial stations. “A comparison was done with other African countries and Botswana was found to be lacking on non-commercial stations,” the document stated.The Authority carried said it carried out desktop research and established that other countries have generally licensed campus radio under the categories of commercial and non-commercial radio broadcasting. Countries such as Namibia, South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe have operational campus radios. South Africa has 11 campus radio stations while Nigeria has 21 and Ghana 12. Some campus radios are commercial while others are non-commercial depending on the country’s adopted broadcasting licensing framework. There is no evidence to suggest that BOCRA carried out a desktop research on the community radio stations from the abovementioned countries. 

BOCRA argued in the discussion paper that campus radio allows for inclusive atmosphere within the school environment. “It encourages interaction, co-operation and communication within the school community that fully reflects the community to the world. It has been established that audiences are attracted to content which they can relate to and has impact on their daily lives,” the paper stated.  Touching on the topical issue of language use, BOCRA stated the language situation in Botswana is trifocal with Setswana being the highest spoken language, English being the second and the minority languages coming in the third place.  “It is important that broadcasting promotes languages that are used in Botswana in order to promote identity, cultural diversity and national pride. Campus Radio broadcasting would be the platform to drive this imperative by providing for different languages within their capacity. The languages used in this should reflect the language needs and choices of the audiences that they serve,” the document noted. 

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