HARARE - Government is taking a hard line on ZBC, giving the new board sweeping new powers to steer the State broadcaster into a viable media outlet putting out good content at a time of declining revenues.
The measures were detailed by Jonathan Moyo, minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, at the first meeting with the ZBC board yesterday.
The new hard line on ZBC is part of a broader issue, which is realigning an institution hit by what Moyo called “complete corporate failure” whose most evident manifestation was the ZBC’s spectacular inability to meet its wage bill.
“Workers went without incomes for more than seven months, forcing government to intervene towards the end of last year,” Moyo said.
“To this day, ZBC remains fragile, something which must exercise your collective mind as the new board.”
Moyo’s stand sets the stage for a looming turnaround of the State broadcaster. While the nation will be closely watching the envisaged changes, Moyo listed five key results areas, and closer supervision, saying in the past government oversight over the State broadcaster has been erratic, unstructured or even non-existent, creating a culture of impunity within which corruption at ZBC thrived.
He cited restoring rules of proper organisation and corporate governance, redefining the vision and core mission of ZBC, restructuring the broadcaster mindful of past pitfalls and in tune with vision and mission, gearing the ZBC for competency in modern, sustainable public commercial broadcasting; and getting the ZBC to fulfil its national and statutory obligations, including to the arts and visual industries.
“ZBC needs to have a clear handbook on rules that guide the interface and operations of its structures and its personnel, rules deriving from, and consistent with ZBC's founding statute and parameters of general corporate governance,” Moyo told the board.
Moyo said while the generic mandate of ZBC, namely to educate, inform and entertain, are well known and recited,”this is no longer obvious or adequate in this new environment of global multimedia.”
“"ZBC can no longer behave like it is a monopoly broadcaster both at law and in practice,” he said. “By way of law, technology, current practices and audiences, ZBC’s monopoly was long repudiated, even though ZBC lives and behaves like nothing has changed. Audiences have changed and today enjoy choices going beyond what obtains within our borders."
He said ZBC structures have proved cumbersome, inadequate, averse to innovation and out of step with how broadcast work gets structured and organised.
“And in situations where the law intervenes to hive off some functions from ZBC including listeners’ licences, structures will have to be revisited," he said.
He said some workers may have to be laid off.
“Above all, the new structures require new skills, new personnel, while making old skills, old personnel, either redundant or in need of serious upgrades,” he said. “ZBC’s manpower strength will now have to be matched with its manpower needs under a new technological environment.”
Moyo said government expects this sensitive restructuring process to be handled by the ZBC board in a way that minimises industrial conflict and related disruptions.
“Fortunately, the forensic audit and strategic turnaround study underway, which this board must digest and implement once ready, should greatly assist the board,” he said. “At the end of the day, ZBC should emerge as an innovator who is also an employer of choice and integrity.”
He tasked the board to find resources for the digitalisation project, “managing the migration process from analogue to full digitalisation, and of course ensuring that ZBC is turned into a leading, commercially viable public broadcaster which recovers audience trust.”
The minister said ZBC must be a clean player, a trusted broadcaster who deserves to be partnered in business.
“Under your watch and leadership, solvency must return to the corporation which minimally must be able to pay its bills, maximally must be able to reward the shareholder for its investments,” he said.
“It must project the national voice and values globally. It must use new technologies to create a real national community at home and a virtual Zimbabwean community by linking Zimbabweans at home with Zimbabweans in the Diaspora. This entails laying groundwork for content infrastructure and building a living, mutually rewarding relationship with independent content producers.
“Above all, it means more innovative programming in a way that recognises that Zimbabweans are found both at home and abroad, meaning the public broadcaster must pursue a dynamic, itinerant programming policy.”