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Government to amend Broadcasting Act
October 16, 2007

The government has conceded on the need to amend the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) to allow the entry of new players into the broadcasting sector saying it will be in a position to invite for requisite applications from prospective broadcasters by the end of this year.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications on 15 October 2007, Minister of Information ad Publicity Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said the ministry was already consulting with all relevant stakeholders including the Attorney-General's Office on amending BSA. He said the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) had not been able to issue new licenses because of the stringent and restrictive requirements under the existing law which bans foreign funding and partnerships in the broadcasting sector.

"We are committed to allow other players. We welcome media pluralism because this benefits consumers, we have no intention of doing otherwise," said Ndlovu. "According to the BA (Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe), the main reason why applicants fail is the requirement for them to declare their source of funds in view of the fact that the majority of shareholders should be Zimbabweans and this is also in line with the Indeginisation and Empowerment Bill."

Under the BSA shareholding is limited to not more than 10 percent for an individual interested in establishing a radio or television station - a restriction which forces a potential investor in the sector to invite 10 other partners to constitute the 100 percent shareholding.

The chairperson of the Committee Leo Mugabe who is also the Member of the House of Assembly for Makonde, expressed concern over Transmedia and Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings' (ZBH) failure to engage technical partners in view of their perennial problem of under-funding which resulted in certain parts of the country failing to receive radio and television signals.

In addition, the Committee criticised the discrepancies in the new ZBC license fee structures which charge separate fees for a household television set and a company owned television for the same service.

MISA-Zimbabwe believes that the consultations referred to should be conducted openly and transparently and hopes that the minister will stick to his word and ensure that all relevant stakeholders input into the process.

The independence of the regulatory authority is also central to the opening of the sector to private players. The regulatory authority should be independent as opposed to the current situation where members of the BAZ are appointed by the Minister. Members of the regulatory body should be selected in a democratic and transparent manner involving civil society, the public at large and should be answerable to Parliament in compliance with international and regional conventions and charters such as the African Charter on Broadcasting.

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