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Parliament Condemns operations of state broadcaster
Extracted from Monthly alerts Digest- June 2004
July 07, 2004

On Wednesday 9 June, the Zimbabwe parliament presented a damning report on the operations of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH) generally known as Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).

The report by parliamentarians, constituting the Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications represent a major breakthrough in the quest to have the state broadcaster transformed into a true public broadcaster. The Portfolio committee, made up of MPís from the ruling, ZANU PF and opposition MDC also represents a breakthrough for bi-partisanship politics in a parliament, traditionally divided along party lines instead of focus on the merits or lack of, of issues under discussion. The report compiled after months of consultations, interviews and visits to ZBH installations and studios in Harare, Gweru and Bulawayo brings back arguments on the need to de-politise the role of the state broadcaster and focus on real national and not party issues.

In its findings the committee noted that ZBH is not only financially broke but has obsolete equipment that makes its definition of as state broadcaster fall short, as millions of Zimbabweans cannot access its programmes. The committee criticized not only the content of ZBH programmes but the whole management structure which vests power with the Minister of Information.

The committee further noted that "ÖIf ZBH was to execute it public mandate effectively the board and editorial team should be independent," "The issue of board and editorial independence was raised with Dr Gono (former board Chairman of ZBC), who informed your committee that the board was very independent and could not act against its conscience,".

Asked on editorial independence Dr Gono said "Öthe board did not interfere with the editorial content of the Corporation. However he conceded that the issue of editorial independence was a tricky one, the world over, but he would not elaborate on the tricky part".

In its findings the committee noted that the ZBH was infact on the brink of collapse and could not carry out its mandate as expected. ZBH has for several months failed to pay its staff on time and its equipment has been confiscated by creditors.

Though Minister Jonathan Moyo defended his department saying it does not interfere with editorial policy nor management of the ZBH, the laws under which the ZBH is operating makes such arguments unconvincing. Laws such as the Broadcasting Services Act, ZBC Commercialization Act have vested all powers in the Minister of Information to do virtually anything he deems.

MPís rightly noted that this whole structure of governance of the ZBH needs to be changed. This cannot be done without re-looking at the current media laws from the BSA, ZBC Commercialization to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). MPís further recommended that, the ZBH, "...serve the whole nation regardless of political, religious, tribal, economic and professional affiliation". Of key importance in the recommendation of the Parliamentarians that is the "autonomy of the ZBH board and senior management be guaranteed. This can only be achieved by involving a wide spectrum of other sectors in the management of the ZBH and appointment of its board and senior staff".

The observations by parliamentarians fall in line with the criticism and recommendations that organizations such as MISA-Zimbabwe have made in the past and continue to advocate for through the "Open the Airwaves Campaign". It must be noted that without a democratic legal framework that manages the broadcasting arena, the ZBH would continue to suffer and the detriment of the rest of society. If the recommendations of the MPís are taken seriously ZBH would markedly improve, not only its programming but image amongst members of society who generally view it with suspicion.

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