A REPORT on the state of broadcasting in Zimbabwe has called on the country’s national unity government to implement reforms in the sector to enable its full transformation into a competitive and diverse industry, writes a journalism.co.za correspondent.

The report, titled 'Public Broadcast Services in Africa Series, On Air', the report highlights the problems caused by the state's stranglehold on broadcasting which has resulted in the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH) enjoying a monopoly.

On Air was written by Dr Sarah Chiumbu, a Zimbabwean who held various media roles in Harare before moving to South Africa where she’s now a lecturer at Wits University.

The report is a result of the research that started in 2008 with the aim of collecting, collating and writing up information about regulation, ownership, access, performance as well as the prospects of public broadcasting reform in Africa.

It has been published by the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP), with the facilitation of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zimbabwe Chapter). On Air is part of a continental study which assesses public broadcast media in 11 African countries.

The other countries included in the 11 country survey on African broadcast media are Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and South Africa.

The report on Zimbabwe is the first country report to be launched, and follows a roundtable conference with stakeholders in the country on the 30th of September 2009.

In a statement, AfriMAP director Ozias Tungwarara said the report made 44 key recommendations, divided into 10 critical sections: media laws; access to public information; voluntary media council of Zimbabwe; the broadcasting landscape, digitalization; broadcast legislation; ZBC legislation; funding; programming and campaigns for broadcast reforms.

“On Air findings show a deliberate move by the government to exclude prospective private broadcasters from acquiring broadcasting licenses – eight years after the promulgation of the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) which created the regulatory Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ).

“BSA, which gave birth to the BAZ as the statutory regulator over transmission rights, places unbridled power in the regulatory body over permits for ownership of transmitters; in the process, barring any aspirations of media houses to broadcast in Zimbabwe, except that of government owned outfits”.

The AfriMAP director said BSA made provisions for private radio stations to broadcast, as recognized by the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe in 2000, after Capital Radio, a private radio station, won a case to import equipment and operate a broadcasting service.  

Said Tungwarara: “The competition and co-existence of public and private media lasted for less than a week. Capital Radio's equipment was confiscated by the police, and rendered inoperable. The transmission of the only private broadcaster inside Zimbabwe has been off air since.

"These acts of intolerance of alternative sources of information, the report states, points to a breach of the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa, which clearly calls for the need for diverse and independent private broadcasting sector in African states.

“As a result, the On Air report unequivocally calls for the BAZ to issue broadcasting licenses to commercial and community broadcasters, whilst replacing the BSA with a new broadcasting regulatory law, derived from the inputs of all stakeholders, guided by clause 9 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa”.

He said that On Air found that Zimbabwe must open up its media arena for divergent views to percolate into areas of national concern. 

The report warned that the government’s refusal would create more stations from outside attracting more people inside the country, who are not allowed a voice because government says that they do not deserve an alternative.

Said Tungwarara: “Monopoly of broadcasting media by the Zimbabwe government has resulted in a scenario, where all privately owned radio stations broadcast outside the country, reach people who have been restricted to ZBH. Therefore the government of Zimbabwe should implement reforms in the broadcasting media”.

The research on the state of broadcasting in Zimbabwe was based on a detailed guide developed by African media experts and others from other regions of the world. 

The thirteen chapter report also included data from an audience survey of representative samples (about 15,000) of viewers and listeners to assess their use of media in general and opinions on broadcasting in particular. 

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who launched the On Air report revealed that he President Robert Mugabe and Professor Arthur Mutambara, finally agreed on the media reforms.

He said within two weeks, the much-awaited announcement of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) would be made.
“We expect the ZMC to be fully operational by 1st of December. As the Prime Minister and indeed every Zimbabwean, we share the same vision with you – to create democratic space and that’s starts with promoting media pluralism and diversity.

“I have said to President Mugabe that there is no problem with me having a paper, Zanu PF having its mouthpiece called The People’s Voice but there is every need to have many radio stations, television stations and newspapers,” Tsvangirai said.

Once the ZMC has been announced, prospective newspapers that had been on the sidelines, would be licenced and granted permission to operate.