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Parliamentary Committee quiz ZBC boss as BAZ dithers on licensing of new players
August 27, 2007

Robson Mandu, the acting general manager of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation's television news was on 27 August 2007 at pains to explain steps the state-controlled broadcaster is taking to transform into a public service broadcaster.

Mhandu appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications during a public hearing on what steps the broadcaster was taking given its perceived view as a state-controlled media as opposed to being a public service broadcaster. The Committee held a hearing at Parliament's exhibition stand at the Harare Show Grounds.

Appearing before the Committee chaired by Member of the House of Assembly for Makonde, Leo Mugabe, Mhandu attributed the lack of alternative voices on ZBC to an acute shortage of financial resources and equipment but acknowledged that the broadcaster's "perceived bias" related to television news coverage.

Committee member Nelson Chamisa, who is also the spokesperson of the opposition MDC, said ZBC had for instance failed to cover the 160 meetings and political rallies held by the party in the recent past illustrating its bias against alternative voices. Murisi Zwizwayi Member of the House of Assembly for Harare Central charged that the ZBC even went to the extent of editing the parliamentary contributions and debates of opposition legislators. Zwizwai said he had observed that the ZBC cameras were simply switched off whenever an opposition parliamentarian rose to debate issues in parliament.

Mhandu attributed the lack of alternative voices on ZBC to poor communication which resulted in them failing to receive certain information on time but that the state broadcaster reserved the editorial independence to decide which voices and issues could be aired in the "public interest". On the editing of opposition voices, he said this was done in the public interest and to protect the country's cultural and political values. "That is our prerogative as professional broadcasters," said Mhandu.

Asked by MISA-Zimbabwe National Director Rashweat Mukundu to explain the criteria that ZBC used in determining public interest and issues that are covered, all Mhandu could say was that the ZBC operated within the guidelines of broadcasting. Mukundu, however, asserted that the transformation of the ZBC hinged on the enactment of enabling legislation which guarantees the broadcaster's independence as well as ensuring that the ZBC is answerable to parliament as opposed to the prevailing situation where it operates "in secrecy".

In his submissions, Mhandu, however, insisted that the broadcaster faced critical problems arising from the shortage of foreign currency to import the required equipment which made the task at hand unattainable adding that the broadcaster had not received any funding from government since 19995. "The resource base does not allow us to go to every corner of Zimbabwe. We are not able to give television coverage all the time we are requested to do so. This is not by design but this situation is compelled by the resource base situation," he said.

Honorable Zwizwai, however, said the issue of ZBC's biased coverage should be taken seriously in keeping with the expected public broadcaster's mandate to reflect the country's diverse political structures. "I know your (Mhandu's) hands are tied somehow but this is a very, very serious matter," said Zwizwai.

Also appearing before the committee was a representative of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ). The representative failed to explain to the committee why BAZ had failed to license new players. Committee Chair Leo Mugabe admonished BAZ for its slow pace in licensing new players. He charged that some of the problems being encountered related to the Broadcasting Services Act especially the provision banning foreign funding in the sector.

The BAZ representative said (BAZ) had made submissions to the Minister of Information and Publicity but is yet to receive a response. The BAZ representative failed to respond to a number of questions prompting the Committee to ask its chief executive officer to appear before the Committee in two weeks time.

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