By Maxwell Sibanda
Government, through the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) should license all prospective local independent television stations, including satellite television service provider Kwese TV (Kwese).
Kwese which is owned by Zimbabwe-born Strive Masiyiwa last week put up adverts in the public media announcing its arrival on the local showbiz market only for Baz to dismiss the development arguing that the station was not licensed locally.
Since independence, Zimbabwe has had only one television station, ZBC-TV and Baz has refused to license any independent television stations, save for pay per view digital television DStv.
Baz last week gave a stern warning to those who had warmed up to the idea of the new television station arguing that the station was not licensed locally.
Interestingly, Cabinet minister Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasuwere through Twitter sprang up to the defence of Kwese while blasting ZBC.
The Daily News caught up with commentators who believe it is time that Baz relaxes its laws so as to license independent television stations.
Member of Parliament Jessie Majome thinks government is afraid of opening the broadcasting system to independent players because it is a dictatorial regime that thrives on attempting to control every facet of life including thought.
“It’s terrified of free-thinking as it knows that it doesn’t enjoy popular support — it can’t brook criticism and knows it is too weak to withstand free speech and opinions about it. So it would rather shut it out and dole out its propaganda instead as an accompaniment to its military control,” said Majome.
Playwright Daves Guzha said: “They are stuck in a 20th century construct. That leadership is failing to embrace 21st century thinking.
“At independence Zimbabwe was one of the few countries to have television — way ahead of South Africa. Now we are so behind. Maybe they are confusing the fact that alphabetically we are the last country and they think everything must be like that.”
Media practitioner Nigel Nyamutumbu said the Kwese saga virtually vindicates those working in the media civil society sector that their advocacy for wholesome reforms of the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) is not a political agenda but a legitimate pursuit of citizen rights enshrined in the Constitution.
“Our current legislative framework provides a recipe for the State to not only control but also capture all broadcasting services.
“Citizens should be spoiled for choice and the entry of diverse players who will not only create new opportunities in the sector but also significantly reduce the cost of accessing information should be welcomed by any democratic government.
“Sadly, our government seems to be obsessed with power to the extent of muscling away potential local investors that can grow the media sector and indeed the economy,” said Nyamutumbu.
Political activist Tabani Moyo said the government of Zimbabwe is fast mutating into an industry competitor rather than being the market moderator, which is every government’s role in democratic nations. “Government of Zimbabwe is protecting DStv monopoly because it has shares in the company. It wants to protect its business interests and furthering its political agenda ahead of elections. The major beneficiary of a broadcasting monopoly is the ruling party.
“We are definitely concerned with the emergence of oligopolies, were few people have cross media ownership from broadcasting, print and telecommunications.
“In all these situations, the proprietors are being linked to the ruling elite. It undermines freedom of expression, diversity and plural views and ideas,” said Moyo.
MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said all totalitarian regimes, the Zanu PF regime included, are paranoid and extremely fearful of the people.
“Remember, we are now entering the election season and Zanu PF is on record stating that they will not reform themselves out of power.
“The regime considers Kwese TV as a threat that might actually assist the opposition in reaching out to the broad masses of the people.
“This beleaguered regime would like to maintain a vice like grip on the electronic media. They know that the electronic media has a wider outreach compared to the print media.
“Since when has the Zanu PF regime ever genuinely loved the people of Zimbabwe? For strange and bizarre reasons, this regime is actually thrilled when the majority of the people are suffering,” said Gutu.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said the case of Kwese is a sad throwback to when the government also attempted to block the licensing of Econet, a mobile telephone company owned by Masiyiwa.
“The government is afraid of local independent entrepreneurs for three reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t want to open the space for competition against its monopolistic state capitalism for financial reasons.
“Secondly, the government has always been wary about the growth of an independent black entrepreneurial class, for purely expedient and political reasons. It does not want its political power to be diluted by independent economic power.
“The ruling class itself wants to be the business owner at the same time, although many are failed entrepreneurs. It would rather allow business opportunities to its surrogates, or even foreigners, who tow their political line.
“Thirdly, the government is not comfortable with emergence of independent broadcasters to maintain a Soviet-like grip on propaganda channels and information dictatorship,” said Gwede.
Playwright Raisedon Baya said: “I think there are several reasons to government’s reluctance to grant Kwese a TV licence; the critical reason being control. Government is probably afraid they may fail to control it like they failed to control Econet in the long run.”
Producer Mthabisi Phili believes government is afraid to issue any licence because it wants to keep the media in check. “They can’t take that risk of losing control of the TV services or media houses. They can’t take the risk of allowing or giving licences to a TV station which is local because they only want to dominant the air space through ZBC. Access to information to millions of people can only be controlled if they are in charge of the TV stations.
“Government is also afraid that a local rival to ZBC will be able to access their mainly rural population which is the Zanu PF power base. This rural population depends on ZBC; hence government cannot imagine losing its grip on this important voting bloc.”
Misa-Zimbabwe chairperson Kumbirai Mafunda said the government has had an unhealthy obsession to keep control of the airwaves and not liberalise the airwaves so as to foist partisan information on people.
“The need for liberalisation of the airwaves cannot be over emphasised . There is need to ensure a more pluralistic media environment seeing that Section 62 of the Constitution guarantees access to information. It is prudent that Zimbabwean authorities should issue licences to other players and prioritise community radio stations to create a truly pluralistic environment in Zimbabwe,” said Mafunda.
Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono said the Zimbabwean government is invested in the MultiChoice DStv Zimbabwe Franchise.
“So I am not surprised that they are blocking Kwese which they see as a threat to their satellite television monopoly.
“It is embarrassing that (President Robert) Mugabe’s government which champions indigenisation and black empowerment is blocking Kwese, a television platform which is owned by a Zimbabwean and run by Zimbabweans and instead protecting MultiChoice which is owned by the Naspers whose companies were set up and protected by successive apartheid governments.
“It exposes the bankruptcy of Mugabe’s black empowerment noises as nothing but hot air. It also shows how vindictive this government can be, denying thousands of Zimbabweans jobs in pursuit of parochial interests,” said Chino’no. Daily News