Freedom Fone, Broadcast Authority of Zimbabwe and Censorship

Following a recent article in the The Standard newspaper (Zimbabwe) we thought it appropriate to put the record straight regarding the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) and their attempt to censor the use of Freedom Fone in Zimbabwe. 

The article titled: BAZ Halts Freedom Fone Project mentions how twice the broadcasting authorities have threatened Freedom Fone deployments claiming the information on-demand telephony services are in contravention of the country's broadcasting laws.

Let us be clear, BAZ has not halted the project in any way. Freedom Fone is a growing Information and Communication Technology initiative that is expanding it's user base in a variety of different sectors around the world.

It is a sad state of affairs when the rest of Africa is experiencing an economic boom around mobile technology and applications and Zimbabwe has a broadcasting authority that not only lacks a proper mandate, but attempts to censor the use of telephony applications that have nothing to do with broadcasting.

In most countries, there is a clear distinction between the use of mobile phones to communicate and the use of radio or television to transmit or broadcast information. Freedom Fone uses Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Leave a Message functions that are no different to your regular customer helpline or voice message service used by service providers and businesses across Zimbabwe and the rest of the world. 
The difference is that our technology is free and open-source making it available to small and medium businesses and end users who only two years ago couldn't afford their own telephony service. Furthermore, this is a project that has been developed in Zimbabwe and is now being exported around the world. This is something the authorities should be proud of rather than attempting to stifle without understanding what the platform actually does.

The Kubatana Trust has been experimenting with the use of Freedom Fone in Zimbabwe around mobile audio dramas targeting important issues such as sexual health, harassment and education. Freedom Fone recently won the prestigious Index on Censorship Award for innovation and continues to grow both in and out of Zimbabwe with projects that are interested in providing valuable communication services to marginalised and remote audiences.

We can only hope that BAZ and related authorities will soon see the light of day and help create an environment that encourages technological innovation and development in Zimbabwe rather than using their power to keep us in the dark ages. We also hope that journalists can be encouraged to further investigate the actual laws that surround broadcasting and telecommunications because it is usually our own ignorance that fuels censorship, not the powers that be.