The traditional medium of terrestrial radio retains a wide reach in most African countries, reaching millions who have no access to the internet. It is a trusted, low-cost source of news and information, and platform for ordinary citizens to share their views. As UN secretary-general António Guterres has said, “Even in today’s world of digital communications, radio reaches more people than any other media platform.”
But radio has also evolved as digital technology has changed the media landscape. And talk radio has changed from being an analogue communication tool that relies on top-down information flow to a dynamic forum that relies on multiple feedback loops. Stanley Tsarwe, journalism lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, explored this trend in a paper titled “Mobile Phones and a Million Chatter: Performed Inclusivity and Silenced Voices in Zimbabwean Talk Radio.”
Tsarwe says he wanted to observe what was happening at the convergence of radio, smartphones, and mobile-based apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter. He found that these technologies had indeed grown public discourse, allowing more inclusive debate between radio presenters and audiences. The downside is that newsrooms often find it difficult to manage the high level of audience interaction, with the result that many voices are excluded.
Still, more voices than before are being heard in Zimbabwe, where the authorities have often resorted to restricting the right to freedom of expression, like instructing Internet service providers in January 2019 to shut down the Internet.
Clampdown on Freedom of Speech
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has recently started to emulate the heavy-handed tactics of former president Robert Mugabe against political opponents and critics of his government.
On July 20, the police arrested Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent investigative journalist who had recently exposed alleged government corruption. He is being accused of incitement to overthrow the government through an uprising. He was denied bail and will appear in court again on August 7.
Amnesty International has criticized the Zimbabwean authorities for continuing their crackdown on dissent with the arrest of Chin’ono, saying they “must stop misusing the criminal justice system to persecute journalists and activists who are simply exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”