'New Baz board will not bring change'

HARARE - A new Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) board is unlikely to bring democratic reforms to Zimbabwe’s broadcasting landscape still yearning for an independent board which awards broadcasting licences without partiality, Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (Maz) has said.

This comes after Parliament last week called on the public to nominate candidates for the Baz board which it will consider when it gives President Robert Mugabe six nominations from which he chooses three to be appointed to the Baz board.

At least one of the three should be a woman.

The Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) provides that three of the 12 members of the board of Baz must be appointed by the president.

The deadline for submission of nominations to Parliament was September 30 and Parliament will now consider nominating qualified candidates who will diligently carry out Baz functions.

These duties include evaluating applications for all broadcasting licences and the monitoring of broadcasting licensees’ tariffs to protect the interests of consumers.

Maz, however, fear sustaining the operations of Baz under the current media policy and legislative framework, particularly the BSA, “will only serve the interest of the Executive and will not reflect the democratic aspirations espoused in the Constitution.”

Maz is an alliance of media organisations including the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, Media Institute of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (Zuj), Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (Zinef), Gender and Media Connect (GMC) and the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ).

“While Maz applauds the principle of conducting transparent public processes in constituting regulatory authorities, there are still legislative gaps that can potentially taint the entire process,” Maz said.

“…The establishment of the Baz Board should be informed by section 61 of the Constitution, which provides for freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

“The importance of having an independent regulator is also enunciated in the African Charter on Broadcasting (ACB) of 2001…In contrast, the BSA does not clearly provide for the establishment of an independent broadcasting authority.

“If anything, it creates room for executive interference in the operations of Baz as obtained in Section 4 of the Act, which merely vests the powers to appoint the Board with the president in consultation with the minister and the SROC without clearly outlining the format and degree of the consultative process.

“As such the BSA should be amended so that the appointment procedure and composition of Baz is done in a public and transparent manner, where all candidates who qualify can apply and are treated equally, and are not chosen by politicians of the day on the basis of partisan interests.

“There must be input not only from elected representatives, but also by other stakeholders from the media sector and the broader civil society. The process should ensure quality personnel who can undertake their responsibilities swiftly, diligently, and without fear or favour.

“Furthermore, the BSA has some provisions that give worrisome authority to the minister which in effect could compromise the independence of the regulator and the licensing process.

Besides Section (2) (q) which grants the minister power to assign functions to the regulator, Section 4B permits the minister to give the regulator general directions relating to the policy Baz is to observe in the exercise of its functions, which the minister considers to be necessary in the national interest.

“The Baz board can also be rendered redundant in light of technological advancements and digitisation and without reforms the public nominations process is illegitimate.

“Against this background, Maz challenges the SROC to be transparent and accountable to the public in justifying the candidates they will be submitting to the president.

“Maz is keenly monitoring this process and Parliament has to be open throughout this process if it is to retain any legitimacy. Maz urges Parliament that it ensures the public is consulted and receive information at every stage of the process, including providing a list of nominees, conducting public interviews and providing a report of deliberations on the nominations such that the process is facilitated in an open manner at every stage.

“More importantly, government has to urgently align the BSA with the Constitution and enact legislation that ensures that the country has an independent broadcasting regulatory framework.”

The independence of Baz recently came under spotlight on the licensing of Econet Media’s satellite network, Kwese TV in Zimbabwe.

The battle between Kwese TV and the government erupted when Baz and its chief executive officer Obert Muganyura, on August 22 this year, cancelled Dr Dish’s licence on the basis that its service provision to the country was illegal.

Dr Dish argued in court papers that Muganyura’s actions, without board approval, were ultra vires the powers vested in him, adding that his decision threatened 1 635 jobs and 24 145 subscribers.

And in the ruling that culminated in the appeal, High Court judge Charles Hungwe gave Dr Dish an entitlement to enjoy full rights and benefits of its licence, irrespective of the August 22, 2017 letter that cancelled its operations.

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