There are new developments pertaining to the return Zimbabwe’s sole national television station, ZBC TV, to the good old days, when there was little government interference with creativity and programming. This, coupled with the current buzz concerning the licensing of new television players, is giving viewers hope that change is on its way. But is it? Martin Chemhere takes a look.
Critics say the government pronouncements that they will grant broadcasting licenses to more players contradicts their actions on the ground that are well documented in terms of violating democratic principles and press freedom.
Much grandstanding has been witnessed as government officials announced news of a new era in television in the country. One of these is the report that about 40 commercial television licenses will be issued subsequent to digitalisation in June next year. By market size and considering the current economic woes, the figure is very ambitious.
Citizens are keeping a close eye on progress aimed at ushering in a new era in the country’s television industry. This is a time when Zimbabwe’s opposition, cited by many as the major reason for the silencing of the country’s most promising private television station, Joy TV, is still as strong despite the splits and spats among its top brass.
Will the Zimbabwean government really bring in more television operators, knowing they will no doubt balance their coverage of both opposition and the ruling government?
Taking into account that currently there are looming splits in ZANU PF due to factionalism, and throw in the fact that opposition parties are yet to find acceptance in a turf that right now hugely favours the present administration that detests change, contributes to Zimbabweans viewing the promises with a pinch of salt and engaging in a game of ‘wait and see’.
It will be interesting to watch how a government that has reservations towards press freedom will guarantee what sounds all good right now.
Zimbabwe’s television sector took a turn for the worse in the late ‘90s with the emergence of rigorous opposition politics in the country. This provoked the state broadcaster, ZBC TV, to flood the national media with round-the-clock propaganda, thereby turning away millions of viewers.
This was followed with well meaning and off-beat television programmes being either frustrated or taken off air as they were deemed suspicious by the ministry of information and other overzealous government officials. Joy TV had emerged as an ideal alternative and robust television station, only to be met with alleged government pressure, and then its subsequent demise.
So, as the Zimbabwean media is abuzz with the news of a new era in the country’s broadcasting industry, many are anxious for an era of dynamic television programming.
Logically, the talk of revamping the entire national broadcaster (ZBC TV) should be followed with robust programming, but citizens dismiss this as unlikely seeing that a leopard doesn’t change its spots. There is so much that the government has to do in terms of democratic practice and allowing freedom of the press in the country for Zimbabweans to trust the promises.
Calls to revamp the entire national broadcaster have lasted for many years. Citizens got to a stage where, in large numbers, they refused to pay licenses due to both poor programming and unrelenting propaganda on the only national television station.
The quest to enjoy great television programming forced many to opt for alternatives such as buying decoders to watch free-to-air programming from South Africa and elsewhere. However, their efforts were met with the government crippling of the services. In one instance, there was a threat to cripple the services of South Africa based 1ST TV, a private broadcaster beaming Zimbabwean programming and that reportedly has since stopped operating.
Opening the television sector to several players is what all Zimbabweans desperately wish for. However, suspicions abound that most of the licenses will go to government associates, as the government is not yet at ease with true democracy and freedom of speech as one of its coveted tenets.
Unfair processes played out in the granting of commercial licenses to two companies associated with the government – AB Communications connected to the deputy minister of information and another linked to state owned Zimpapers Group.
As the country moves from analogue to digital in the new year, it is widely and realistically anticipated that the era of more players in the television industry is imminent but whose voice will be heard much more remains a grey area.
Generally, if the events on the ground and media reports are anything to trust, the country should be enjoying more players in the television sector by this time next year. A sector that has in recent times seen most of its personnel looking outside of the country for employment may begin to offer more opportunities.
Things maybe looking great, but time will tell whether all this will come to pass!
IMAGE: Grace Mugabe / ZBC Facebook
Want to continue this conversation on The Media Online platforms? Comment on Twitter @MediaTMO or on our Facebook page. Send us your suggestions, comments, contributions or tip-offs via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.