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Civic meeting with parliamentary committee on transport and communications on liberalisation of the airwaves
Global Arts Trust
April 05, 2004

From an Artist’s View-Point
The liberation of the airwaves has steamed heated debates in Europe and America. Everywhere governments have asked themselves controversial questions surrounding this concept i.e Why the liberalization? How to liberalise?, When to liberalise…questions that have received different conceptions and comprehensions in the west, regionally and more recently, here in Zimbabwe.

To ‘liberalise’ generally means to ‘free’. Freeing the airwaves in the case of Zimbabwe has meant allowing new players in both radio and television broadcasting. This has led to the formation of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe a result of the New Broadcasting Act (2001). However, to ‘liberalise’ goes beyond the mere concept of allowing new players. To liberalise means therefore, to remove or repeal various laws that seem to muzzle or constrict press independence and the very process of liberalization. To liberalise should not or must not come in half measures but should go all the way for the process to be feasible and efficient.

The 75%-25% local content in favour of local programming on local radio and television has been welcomed by local producers. Never before has Zimbabwe seen a crop of young and talented musicians as the ones we have now… Rocqui, Maskiri, Plaxedes Wenyika… all these shine today as a result of this provision. Section 11:3:4 of the Broadcasting Act requires broadcasters to ensure that " at least 40% of their 75% local TV content programming consists of independent television productions." This has seen such programmes as ‘Waiters’ (Creative Production),

‘Breaking New Grounds’ (IKO productions) and many others being screened. More independent productions are making their way to ZTV, a phenomenon once non-existant. This has boosted the arts and cultural industry immensely.

The Broadcasting Act (2001) further encourages independent producers by the creation of the Broadcasting Fund. The fund’s main function is to "provide grants to encourage the growth of the Zimbabwean Creative Arts industry for the purpose of enabling film and music industry to supply material to meet local content obligations of broadcasting licenses." Inadequate funding has always characterized local production houses thus such a fund was long overdue, and is welcome. Often ideas have just lain there in script form never to be realized because of lack of capital. In most developed countries e.g Sweden, Canada and Norway, the government has created funds to cushion their cultural industry. In the US over 50% of the country’s revenue is from its cultural industry alone namely Hollywood. India’s Bollywood is not far behind as it contributes to 30% India’s revenue. Thus the importance of the arts or cultural industry must not be under estimated. Indeed the question of liberalization is a challenge as mentioned earlier. Nigeria with its many radio stations was recently faced with dangers of negative publicity due to foreign news broadcasts. Only last week (30/03/04) did we hear that the Nigerian government had banned private stations from broadcasting news bulletins. Liberalisation?

Although the ‘liberalisation’ process has been a step in the right direction, for it is the strong desire of the various " freedoms" that embed " true democracy." In this case the freedoms of expression and information. There also have been various impediments lying first and foremost in the legislation…the act itself and other socio- economic and political reasons not necessarily divorced from each other. Legislations such as POSA and AIPPA defeat the purpose of true liberalise. When one frees the bird, they open a cage and let it go. First the bird will spread its wings and prepare to fly. It will spread its wings and begin to fly, flying first around the place it knew as home and finally away. It is free. We do no clip its wings and take it out of the cage and wait for it to fly. It will not. Similarly, ladies and gentlemen, let us draft up pieces of legislation that are whole and complete. Pieces of legislation that do not contradict each other, legislation that does not defeat the purposes we are trying to achieve. Laws such as POSA, AIPPA echo Rhodesian laws of Law and Order Maintenance Act, and Official Secrets Act which hinder this very quest of freeing the air waves Let me now look at the Broadcasting Act (2001) and what it means for us in the cultural industry.

The selection of material from independent producers by ZBC has been rather biased. By this I mean production houses that do not hold favour with the organization have found their works rejected. ZBC has cited problems of "content quality" or "time limitations" as the major reasons for rejections. One cannot help but notice ‘content manipulation’ in the ZBC selection methods. Section 24 of the Broadcasting Act (2001) excludes independent producers in codes of conduct development relating to material content. What guarantee do independent producers have that their materials will receive air- play? In other words productions from independent producers may be rejected. 

This manipulation has been largely on the political grounds. Many documentaries which have been accepted regionally or internationally, have been rejected by the local broadcaster on the lines of "content quality" or "programme time limitations." This brings to mind the saying that ---he that owns the pipe playeth the tune. Therefore, there has been viewpoint manipulation by the broadcaster, this curtails the various freedoms of expression of artists. Artists are not politicians they just reflect a society’s way of life (Culture) through art (as a medium).

The Broadcasting Authority is answerable to the minister and he selects who sits in the board. The Minister has a kind of "immunity" and what he says goes. The BAZ therefore plays only advisory roles as prescribed by the Act. The feeling one gets is that BAZ is like a toothless bulldog. This is very detrimental and constricts the flow of information thereby encouraging a dominant view- point.

The Act has legislated only two broadcasters in the broadcasting arena. Besides ZBC, there will be one other television station with public service obligations. Independent producers will have a limited choice of stations to show case their products. Therefore, there is need for clauses that enable transparency in decision making especially with reference to BAZ. Also, a code of conduct must be developed after consultation with artists and independent producers. Who is administering the Broadcasting Fund? Is it already functional? Artists need to be informed that this fund exists and how they can access it.  


  1. Laws inhibiting free operations of the media must be repealed e.g Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and Public Order and Security Act (POSA).
  2. The limited elements of such laws that encourage freedom of information must be incorporated into a new access to information and freedom of expression act.
  3. The Broadcasting Services Act must be amended allowing the formation of the BAZ that is appointed independently and has power to issue licenses without interference of the minister of information.
  4. A Broadcasting Act regulating and at the same time entrenching the independence of ZBC is required. An independent board of governors must be appointed by parliamentary committee and not necessarily the minister of information.
  5. The parliament must come up or lobby for a clear cultural policy. A policy that recognizes the Arts Industry as a viable industry, a policy which encourages its growth and is distinct.
  6. The Broadcasting Act must allow for Artists to participate in the drafting of a code of conduct for selection of materials.
  7. Private radio stations must be allowed more years before the expiry of their licenses. The current 2 years is not economically viable for operators hence this curtails the very process of liberalization of the airwaves as most prospective players will be reluctant to invest in the broadcasting business.

Three years after the Broadcasting Act (2001) was passed in parliament there has been an uncomfortable silence about new players coming in. Only recently have we heard the Minister of Information saying interested broadcasters can start applying for licenses. Indeed a new day has come for Zimbabwean broadcasters, but not without a price. We must liberalise the airwaves for the good of our nation. There is little doubt for the Act’s intentions for it is stated in its preamble;

" to regulate and license signal carriers, to encourage and develop the creative arts through broadcasting content standards, to create a sense of national identity through broadcasting services…"

Thus there is need to seriously address such issues as the ones I have mentioned and many more that I may have overlooked if liberalization is to have true meaning in Zimbabwe.

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