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By Alice Purkiss / 28 March 2012
Repressive governments deliberately hinder people’s access to information to entrench control and minimise dissent. New media technologies, and the innovative uses of old media, challenge this control. The Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe’s primary objective is to make human rights and civic information accessible from a centralised, electronic source. We use the Internet, email, blogging, SMS, Freedom Fone, DVDs and print publications to share this information with Zimbabweans living in urban and rural locations.
Our technical director, Brenda Burrell had a vision to enable activists and NGOs to create short form audio programmes, which people could call-in to listen to using their phones. Thus Freedom Fone was conceptualised.
Information can be shared and received at anytime in any language wherever there is mobile coverage. Traditional roadblocks of licensing, regulation and literacy are bypassed, and freedom of expression is broadened. However, it is not surprising that a regime which so thoroughly seeks to suppress dissent and suffocate opportunities for free expression and debate, should be threatened by a service which broadens access to information and encourages the open exchange of opinion.
The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, an entity generally acknowledged to have been set up to control, rather than to expand the access to information, advised Kubatana that we were operating an “unlicensed broadcasting service” and that we were in violation of the law by making these audio dramas accessible over phones.
We have sought advice from both local and regional legal practitioners, and the opinion is that the Freedom Fone services provided by Kubatana are not in violation of any broadcasting laws. Currently Kubatana is seeking support to challenge the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe in court. Kubatana’s Freedom Fone and services like it provide new opportunities for communication, mobilisation and activism.
In repressive environments, this will be met with resistance. However, it is important not to buckle under this pressure or constrain one’s own creative use of technology. Rather, we must use innovative technologies to expand access to information and broaden discussions of censorship, repression and control of the media environment. We are honoured to receive this award and would like to take this opportunity to thank our various donors and supporters for enabling our work. Most importantly we would like to thank the people who make up the Kubatana Community in Zimbabwe.