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This article participates on the following special index pages:
Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
Zimbabwe Briefing - Issue 114
in Zimbabwe Coalition (SA Regional Office)
July 24, 2013
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1st TV as an indictment of government's failed media policy
The launch of
a new free to air satellite television station 1st TV at least 12
days preceding Zimbabwe’s
harmonized election on 31 July 2013 sent a lot of tongues wagging.
This is particularly so after the scrambling of SABC channels broadcasting
into the country via Wiztech. The owners of this new (satellite)
television station cannot be faulted at seizing an opportunity,
be it for business or as insinuated by the Ministry of Media, Information
and Publicity, for political reasons.
the owners of 1st TV saw an opportunity that they were and are within
their right to take. Both in relation to the International Telecommunications
Union (ITU) regulations as well as within the context of the law
of whatever host country their relay transmitters are to be found.
issued by the proprietors of 1st TV also states that their station
has not been launched not only in order to broadcast during elections
but more as a long-term alternative to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting
Corporation (ZBC). Even though they are not physically broadcasting
from Zimbabwean soil, this is an issue that the Ministry of Media,
Information and Publicity together with the national transmission
company, Transmedia have raised opprobrium about.
latter company can actually stop the 1st TV signal from entering
Zimbabwean airspace has thus far been proven to be an exercise in
futility given the fact that it can be viewed on channels to be
found via DSTV decoders. The broadcasting of 1st TV into Zimbabwe
is however, not the main issue to be considered in this article.
What is more important are the reasons as to why this new channel,
owned as it claims, by Zimbabweans (based both here and in the Diaspora),
had to take the route of broadcasting via Wiztech. The immediate
answer to that question is that regardless of whatever successes
one accords the outgoing inclusive government, the broadcast media,
particularly television, have not been democratized. Both with reference
to transmission as well as in relation to broadcasting diversification
of stations or even their content.
This lack of
progress in the broadcasting industry is something that many would
correctly want to put on the doorstep of Zanu-PF as a sole governing
party before the formation of the inclusive government, but where
one is more honest, it is an indictment on all the parties in the
same four years after its formation in 2009.
tenure and against better advice the inclusive government remained
muted on the important issue of broadcasting diversification and
reform. The fact that it licensed two private national free to air
radio stations is not only inadequate but evidence of how wrong
an ‘incremental’ approach to media reform was and will
always be in Zimbabwe’s context.
premise accorded to the media in Zimbabwe by all political parties
that signed and approved the new constitution is unfortunate and
betrays a patent misunderstanding of media freedom by those that
are in the outgoing government. And this is across the board. Media
freedom remains a right that should be inviolable, but the new national
charter while recognizing the same in section 63, takes it away
not only through establishment of a constitutional media commission
to licence and supervise journalists (within the ambit of potential
criminal punishment) but in similar fashion to the Lancaster house
by providing for media freedom to be curtailed by not listing it
on rights that have no limitations in Section 86.
This is also
the same political culture of control and propagandizing of information
that characterizes the structure and editorial policy of our state
broadcaster, much to the denial of alternative views to the mainstream
or ruling party and its associated organizations in the country.
It is this culture
of controlling the media that has left the democratic media reform
agenda not only shortchanged but to be viewed as an abstract matter
by all of the major political parties both in this election and
those that may emerge thereafter.
This has been
the reason why in effect broadcast media environment remains undemocratic
and lauded only on the basis of incrementalism as opposed to substantive
Even where the
MDCs have decried the conduct of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe
(BAZ), they have only done so on the basis of personalities and
not on key principles such as those that are to be found in the
African Charter on Broadcasting. To argue against the chairpersonship
of Dr Mahoso at BAZ is fair politics but is unfortunately a far
cry from addressing the fundamental challenges of the archaic broadcasting
and technological frameworks that bedevil the media in Zimbabwe.
It is futile
to discuss personalities and not policies over and about the media
at a time when media technology is changing rapidly both in terms
of its convergence and it’s global reach. International diplomacy
may stall the ability of externally based television and radio stations
from broadcasting into a country, but this is always a temporary
measure if the country in question has neither the technology nor
the democratisation of its own media environment.
In effect therefore,
the launch of 1st TV, more out of the frustration at the lack of
opportunities to broadcast from Zimbabwe by its proprietors, is
a direct result of an undemocratic media environment in Zimbabwe.
That the station was launched less than two weeks before the holding
of harmonized elections may raise some eyebrows but it cannot be
faulted both in terms of the ITU and neither can the government
absolve itself of the sin of incompetence.
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