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meeting with parliamentary committee on transport and communications
on liberalisation of the airwaves
Global Arts Trust
April 05, 2004
From an Artist’s
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.
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.
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
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
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?
‘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.
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.
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).
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.
- 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
- The limited
elements of such laws that encourage freedom of information must
be incorporated into a new access to information and freedom of
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- The Broadcasting
Act must allow for Artists to participate in the drafting of a
code of conduct for selection of materials.
- 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.
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;
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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