Demand for new broadcasting licences

HARARE - As Zimbabweans face a crucial election set for anytime this year, the issue of media reforms has again taken centre stage as it is a requisite to a free and fair poll.

While media encompasses both print and broadcasting, it is the later that still has to make any strides in terms of opening up to independent radio and television stations.

In recent months, government which had all along refused to offer new radio licences, issued two stations; ZiFM and Star FM the nod to broadcast. But both stations are not independent and are closely linked to Zanu PF.

ZiFm is owned by a Zanu PF member and former ZBC broadcaster Supa Mandiwanzira while Star FM is owned by the State-controlled Zimpapers, publishers of The Herald, H-Metro, Chronicle and Sunday Mail amomg others
The ZTV remains the sole television broadcaster, 33 years into Zimbabwe’s independence and efforts to license new players have been thwarted over the years.

The Daily News sought interviews from media practitioners and artistes in which we asked them what they thought had changed in broadcasting, looking back from 1980, 90s through to 2000 compared to today.

Political activist and media practitioner Tabani Moyo believes there has been little movement in the broadcasting industry as the State has maintained a stronghold on that industry for the fear of unknown.

“Since independence we witnessed two new players in the industry one of which the State licensed itself through Star FM and then the controversies or shall I say the demons that followed the whole process which are refusing to die.

“Questions also touch on the awarding of a licence to a Zanu PF candidate for Nyanga South. There are so many questions that arose due to such controversies,” said Moyo.

He said in terms of content generation on the two new radio stations it was his hope that there will be balance during the elections period.

“The nefarious law such as the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) that makes it literally impossible to attract foreign investment into the industry has not been amended much. So the State has by and large dominated the broadcasting industry through its State broadcaster ZBC.

 “Attempts were made through Capital radio to break the broadcasting stagnancy but upon winning their case at Supreme Court in 2000, the owners were stampeded out of the country and their equipment confiscated by the State,” said Moyo.

He acknowledges that some few changes have been scored in multimedia communication with the bulk of youth markets broadcasting their materials on YouTube, which has literally transformed into a television network.

“However, the challenges of broadband speed have become a pull down effect in this regard.”

Going forward, Moyo said he expected this government or the one coming into existence after the make or break elections to move with speed to reconstitute the regulatory authority as an independent Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe as opposed to the current charade being chaired by media “hangman” Tafataona Mahoso.

He said there was urgent need to “issue out a cocktail of new broadcasting licences given the fact that the government has capacity to issue out 52 community radio licences, six television stations among others as was revealed by the then deputy minister of Information, Jameson Timba in 2009.

“Transform ZBC from being a State broadcaster towards a public service broadcaster. The public service broadcaster that is not manipulated by centres of power in government, but aims at ensuring that there is high quality service in terms of programming and serving the diverse tastes of the nation.

“We should move with speed towards transforming our moribund analogue broadcasting towards digital migration so that we increase capacity to broadcast.”

Arts administrator Daniel Maphosa said there must be diverse broadcasting plays both at television and radio level where competition is high.

“This will help improve the quality of programming. This can also be achieved by massive investment and re-investment into production of quality content that will enable competitiveness within national and regional landscapes.

“Having said that, I think the 75 percent local content while being a good initiative would not achieve its aims unless there is that investment.”

He said he was happy that the airwaves are giving prominence to local artists. “For examples if you look at the urban grooves genre, it has improved in the past 10 years because of the airspace and competition it is getting from radio channels.”

Pan African commentator Thomas Deve said the State broadcaster has remained largely loyal to Zanu PF and gives access to other players on very few occasions.

“In most instances, it portrays Zanu PF in a good light and is always demonising other players. We have new players now and you have a clear division that is often characterised as polarised views on national and related overseas news,” said Deve.

He said the worrying thing at the moment is liberalisation of the airwaves has been good for musical programmes and talk shows but some political issues that desire deeper reflections to give the public informed positions are handled as propaganda platforms.

“What I don’t like is the politicisation of the broadcasting landscape, particularly in non-entertainment content. There is an overdose of propaganda than balanced content that serve the needs and aspirations of various and diverse Zimbabwean groups. This has therefore killed local people’s confidence in local stations,” said Deve.

Screen actor and director of Pakare Paye Arts Centre, Watson Chidzomba said while there are many issues surrounding the broadcasting landscape in Zimbabwe, he recalls the time when Gray Tichatonga was head at ZBC in early 80s.

“He supported drama and created budgets for television dramas. We were treated like artists hence the quality of our works then,” said Chidzomba.

The actor said broadcasting’s full strength, especially television depends on adverts. “But that will not improve if television promotes hate language and is all political propaganda.”

He added that the two new radio stations, Star FM and ZiFM have brought great change to broadcasting. “We are now praying for more television stations.”

Chidzomba said the introduction of community radio stations would greatly improve the broadcasting landscape.

“Take a place like ours (Pakare Paye Arts Centre) community radio would work wonders.”

Celebrated author Virginia Phiri said a lot has changed in the broadcasting circles since 1980 to today.

“Certainly a lot has changed. That is from efficiency, friendliness, openness, listener and customer care,” said Phiri.

Renowned artist and painter Chiko Chazunguza thinks the 100 percent local content move back then made a huge difference since broadcasting is not an end in itself.

“It has to propel productive cultural energy — otherwise it becomes a gun pointing at one’s own culture,” said Chazunguza.

Media commentator Masimba Biriwasha said broadcasting was a big thing in the early 1980s, 90s through to 2000, and then at the turn of the last decade propaganda became the staple of broadcasting.
“Suffice to state that Zimbabweans have found alternative ways to broadcast and receive broadcasting. A lot of online radio stations have emerged.

“In general though, broadcasting in Zimbabwe needs to undergo a revamp to make it tell the local story more effectively,” said Biriwasha.

Guitarist and music composer Master Pablo Nakappa said the more broadcasting is opened to other players, the merrier the artists.

“Many players will bring joy even to us artists. You know that out of all radio stations you will not fail to get one that plays your music. Information is also getting faster where it is intended to get,” said Nakappa.

He bemoaned the absence of more television stations. “Laws need to be changed so that independent players also get involved as well. We are still backward on television because the only station that is there is not doing much.”

Curator and deputy director of National Gallery of Zimbabwe Raphel Chinovava Chikukwa said the arrival of new radio stations is what we need and it is my hope that step by step we will have more stations.

“Because when one looks at the 80s, 90s up to 2000 we can say the new stations have brought a lot to the table diverse voices and also created employment to our local DJs and reporters,” said Chikukwa.

Music manager Marcus Gora said the most important change in broadcasting has to do with legislation. “I am not sure if there have been any changes on that front.”

Gora said other important broadcasting issues that were witnessed in Zimbabwe over the years have to do with the broadcasting of illegal foreign based radio stations into the country and how that affects society and politics.

“Another major turning factor is to do with the 100 percent local content effected by Jonathan Moyo when he was still minister of Information which resulted in the rise of local urban grooves music,” said Gora.

He applauded the increase in new radio stations — ZiFM and Star FM which are broadcasting far and wide.

“In terms of artistic freedom of expression it is important to note that freedom of expression is a qualified right and not an absolute right in every country.

“The space for artistic free expression on the airwaves has shrunk over the past decade. While the law provides for this freedom, broadcasters like the ZBC have simply limited the range and plurality of voices.

“One hopes that the introduction of new stations will and can broaden opportunities for expression. These gains can only be realised by a nation that is honest about upholding values such as tolerance and respect,” said Gora.

A broadcaster who declined to be named said State monopoly on broadcasting has seen standards deteriorating to deplorable levels.

“State investment into radio and television has dwindled combined with increased propaganda levels resulted in the predictable flight of capable and experienced engineers, camera persons and producers, prompting the ZBC to rely on thoroughly green employees with no immediate and professional clues on how studio and news gathering cameras are operated.

“This has reduced the corporation to a laughing stock as the rising propaganda levels competed pathetically with deteriorating standards,” said the correspondent. He said the only change that is there in broadcasting today is a constant decline in standards for the worse. “Professional standards that existed in the 80s are gone, un-replaced and difficult to cultivate as business and the corporate sector remain reluctant to pump in money into an incompetent and unprofessional television pit, which can only be redeemed possibly in a new political dispensation.”

He added the current status quo has consolidated a dead man’s grip on State television and main radio stations for survival politics at the expense of profit and professionalism.  

“The current so-called radio private stations are offshoots of the State through a partisan process — though done openly — was executed behind closed political doors into hoodwinking the public that a professional procedure was followed.

“In terms of content they are equally a pathetic carbon copy of the former, and ahead of elections shall mutate into pronounced propaganda outlets of the State. Nothing has changed. I refused to have wool rolled over my face,” said the correspondent.

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