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Cablegate: Government-Owned Radio Abolishes Call-in Current

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

260557Z Nov 01


UNCLASSIFIED PTQ0180

PAGE 01 HARARE 03530 260645Z
ACTION INR-00

INFO LOG-00 NP-00 AF-00 A-00 ACQ-00 CIAE-00 DODE-00
DS-00 EUR-00 UTED-00 VC-00 TEDE-00 LAB-01 VCE-00
NSAE-00 IRM-00 TEST-00 USIE-00 BBG-00 EPAE-00 IIP-00
DSCC-00 DRL-02 NFAT-00 SAS-00 /003W
------------------42E9B6 260645Z /38
FM AMEMBASSY HARARE
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0364
INFO NSC WASHDC
AMEMBASSY PRETORIA
AMEMBASSY LUSAKA
AMEMBASSY WINDHOEK
AMEMBASSY GABORONE
AMEMBASSY LILONGWE
AMEMBASSY LONDON

UNCLAS HARARE 003530

SIPDIS

AF/PD FOR COX, ROBERTSON, AF/S FOR SCHLACHTER, AF/P,
INR/R/MR, NSC FOR JENDAYI FRAZER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ZI PREL PHUM
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT-OWNED RADIO ABOLISHES CALL-IN CURRENT
EVENTS PROGRAMMING


1. THE STATE-OWNED ZIMBABWE BROADCASTING CORPORATION
(ZBC) HAS CONVERTED ONE OF ITS FOUR RADIO STATIONS INTO AN
18-HOUR PER DAY SPORTS CHANNEL. THE NEW CHANNEL, NAMED
"SPORTS FM," OCCUPIES THE FREQUENCY FORMERLY USED BY RADIO
1. RADIO 1 WAS AN ENGLISH-LANGUAGE STATION OFFERING MUSIC,
NEWS AND CALL-IN DISCUSSION PROGRAMS THAT FOCUSED ON
CURRENT AFFAIRS. THE CONVERSION OF RADIO 1 TO "SPORTS FM"
EFFECTIVELY ENDS ALL ADULT-ORIENTED CALL-IN RADIO
PROGRAMMING IN ZIMBABWE.

2. RADIO 1 WAS THE LAST VESTIGE OF THE RHODESIAN
BROADCASTING SERVICE. ITS ALL-ENGLISH FORMAT AND MUSIC
PLAY LIST CATERED TO ZIMBABWEANS OF EUROPEAN ANCESTRY.
CONSEQUENTLY, RADIO 1 HAD THE SMALLEST AUDIENCE AND WAS THE
LEAST PROFITABLE OF ANY OF THE ZBC'S FOUR RADIO STATIONS.
THE STATION DID, HOWEVER, HAVE A STRONG FOLLOWING AMONG A
WIDE VARIETY OF ZIMBABWEANS FOR ITS EVENING CALL-IN CURRENT
EVENTS PROGRAMS. THESE PROGRAMS OFFERED CITIZENS AN
OPPORTUNITY TO EXPRESS THEIR VIEWS AND ASK PANELISTS
QUESTIONS ABOUT IMPORTANT ISSUES. CALLERS FREQUENTLY
VOICED SHARP CRITICISM OF THE GOVERNMENT OR RULING PARTY.

3. OVER THE LAST 18 MONTHS, THESE PROGRAMS HAVE GRADUALLY
BEEN CANCELLED, REDUCED TO PANEL DISCUSSIONS WITHOUT CALLS
FROM THE AUDIENCE, OR RE-DIRECTED TO FOCUS ON NON-POLITICAL
TOPICS. ZBC HAS NEVER OFFERED REASONS FOR THESE PROGRAM
CHANGES, BUT THE POPULAR PERCEPTION IS THAT ZBC MANAGEMENT
AND THEIR POLITICAL BOSSES WERE UNHAPPY ABOUT PROVIDING A
FORUM FOR PUBLIC DISCUSSION AND CRITICISM OF THE
GOVERNMENT. ACCORDING TO ONE CONTACT AT ZBC, THE
"AUTHORITIES" HAD BECOME "VERY UNCOMFORTABLE" WITH PUBLIC
COMPLAINTS ON THE CALL-IN PROGRAMS ABOUT THE "DEEPENING
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HARARE 03530 260645Z
ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL CRISIS UNDER PRESIDENT ROBERT
MUGABE." BY CONVERTING THE STATION TO AN ALL-SPORTS
FORMAT, THE ZBC NEATLY USES A DEFENSIBLE BUSINESS DECISION
TO GIVE ITSELF A POLITICAL "COMFORT ZONE."

4. IN ADDITION TO REMOVING GENUINE DISCUSSION PROGRAMS
FROM ZIMBABWEAN AIRWAVES, THE CONVERSION OF THE STATION TO
ALL SPORTS HAS ALSO DEALT A BLOW TO PLACEMENT OF VOA
PROGRAMMING. OF THE FOUR ZBC RADIO STATIONS, RADIO 1 HAS
BEEN THE BIGGEST USER OF VOA NEWS, CURRENT AFFAIRS AND
MUSIC PROGRAMS. HOWEVER, VOA PROGRAMMING WILL CONTINUE ON
RADIOS 3 AND 4.

SULLIVAN

UNCLASSIFIED

>

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