In an ominous precedent, which threatens religious freedom in South Africa, Good News Community Radio has lost its court appeal and is being ordered to stop broadcasting.
Award winning Good News Community Radio (GNCR) in KwaZulu-Natal has been ordered by ICASA (the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) to switch off and close down. Now its court appeal to reverse this instruction has been dismissed with costs.
It is as unacceptable for any government agency to close down a Christian Radio station, as it would be for any government to close down a Christian church.
There are more than enough airwaves and frequencies available. Radio is as much a part of daily life and technology as are telephones, motorcars, personal computers and E-mail. It is incomprehensible that any government department can think that it has the right, or authority, to limit freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion and freedom of association on the airwaves.
We are reminded of how in Eastern Europe under the Communists typewriters, and even carbon paper, were restricted items requiring to be registered by the state! In fact, in Rev. Bill Bathman’sGoing Through book, he reports on how an evangelistic outreach by mail in Yugoslavia was unsuccessful, because the envelopes had been typed. Their team had not realised at that time that typewriters were such a rare and restricted item in this Communist country. When they were arrested, every envelope was lying on the table of the security police, because having the addresses typed identified the evangelistic mail! At the time they marveled at the paranoia of a dictatorship that felt that even carbon paper and typewriters could be a threat to their control.
Today we are astounded that ICASA should feel the need to close down a successful, award winning, Christian community radio station, with approximately 100,000 listeners, who have been broadcasting for over 10 years.
We cannot help but remember that complete government control of radio stations in Rwanda preceded the genocide there. We are also well aware that independent newspapers and community radio stations in Zimbabwe have all been closed down.
It would appear that ICASA has different goal posts and different sets of criteria for Muslim and secular radio stations in South Africa. A double standard is being applied to Christian community radio stations, and this targeting of GNCR (along with the severe limitations on Radio Pulpit – the only national Christian radio station being limited to two hours – 4 AM to 6 AM!) provides an ominous precedent.
It is absolutely essential that religious freedom be respected in all areas of life, including on the airwaves. No government has the right to close down Christian churches, or Christian radio stations. These are essential expressions of freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is a non-negotiable foundation for freedom.
Good News Community Radio, which is based at Shortlands near Verulam on the North coast of KwaZulu Natal, has been broadcasting since September 1995. It recently won a national award for their “Exam Buzz” education programmes.
The station teamed up with matric educators to provide free tuition for matriculants, especially those in rural areas. Learners were able to phone in and interact with educators during the programmes, receiving clarity on any exam related issue. The station held daily competitions for students and its free on-air tuition programmes became highly popular amongst learners and educators as almost every subject in the curriculum was catered for.
Yet, now, this award winning Community Radio Station is being told to close down its successful operations.
Tony Naidoo, who presents the GNCR Youth Programme asked: “Why take a perfectly functioning and viable radio station off air? It has never been an instrument of harm to anyone. Our programmes focus on education, drug and alcohol abuse, child and women abuse, life skills, morals and values.”
Good News has faithfully served over 100,000 listeners for over 10 years. There were programmes for all ethnic and religious groups and their 24 hour-a-day radio programmes broadcast in 5 languages. If GNCR can be closed down, which Christian radio stations in South Africa could be assured that they wouldn’t be next?
GNCR producer, technician and presenter, Steven Mabugana, explained: “We were amongst the first to apply in this area, in 1995. We were successful and were issued with a one year temporary license. This had to be renewed every year. But in 2002, we were shocked when we applied for the four year license and were turned down. The reasons given to us were that our station did not broadcast in the language of the largest population in our coverage area (Zulu) and that our board management did not reflect these demographics.”The station has since appealed the ICASA ruling and a negative High Court ruling.
“Our Community Radio Station falls in the community of interest category and not the geographical category. This means that the court ruled on things that are not actually applicable to us, our relevant community has nothing to do with race – it is about a group of people with a similar interest – Christianity…we are serving a huge Christian community with a combination of Indian, Zulu and English listeners,” explained Mr. Mabugana.
Mr. Nair of GNCR stated: “ICASA is actually using tax payers money to deprive about 100,000 listeners of the right to listen. There will be a void, spiritually.” He explained that the dedicated staff of GNCR are from the community and work on a voluntary basis. No one at GNCR receives any remuneration.
Yet, despite over 108,000 residents in the community signing petitions in support of GNCR, ICASA has remained determined to close down this vibrant Christian Community Radio Station.
Mrs. Sandy Sukdev of Verulam said: “GNCR means everything to me. I have been listening to it for over 10 years now and have gotten to know a lot about the Lord through this station. The pastors messages and the songs are all very inspirational and always make me feel so much better whenever I am down. It will be a sad loss if it closes and I cannot imagine my life without GNCR.”
Mrs. Jane Gobadan of Redcliffe said: “I start my day with GNCR, so life without it will be incomplete. It respects everyone’s needs irrespective of what race, religion and beliefs. The Word of God is being spread throughout. This station has touched and changed many lives. We trust the Lord will be our Saviour and Winner.”
Please do mobilise your congregation and prayer fellowship to intercede for this dynamic Christian community radio station. To learn more about their ministry visit www.jivannadi.co.za and to communicate your support for them write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are in the Durban area, you can tune in to GNCR on 98fm (and if you want to support Good News Community Radio with their legal battle to appeal to the High Court to stay on the air, their bank account details are: Standard Bank, Durban North cheque account: 251208796 branch code 042826).
“Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all…” 1 Chronicles 16:24 - 25