Stop abusing ZBC

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The week gone by was characterised by heated accusations and counter accusations between Zanu PF and the Movement for Democratic Change on the dominance of ‘jingles’ or ‘songs’ in gleeful praise of Zanu PF as the dominant political party in the inclusive government specifically and in our body polity at large.
The suffocating accusations however missed the point by shocking margins. The real issues at hand which the politicians are not telling the nation is that they are contesting for political space and have forgotten the audience which they are supposed to be serving.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) does not belong to the politicians of the day, it belongs to the taxpayer, who by virtue of being forced by the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) to pay license fees or risk facing arrest, deserves first class programming and coverage irrespective of the political, religious, ethnic or class one belongs to.
The ‘jingles’ or ‘songs’ debates are aimed at misdirecting the people of Zimbabwe’s focus from the core problems affecting them ranging from health, education, media freedom, genuine constitution-making process, HIV and Aids, access to clean water, energy supply and the forgotten Beira Feruka pipeline among others.
The symptoms emanating in the form of ‘jingles’are; firstly an offshoot of politicians being reluctant to transform ZBC from a state broadcaster into a genuine public broadcaster. Secondly the politicians entrenching themselves into a statutory mechanism that celebrates ZBC maintaining the monopoly in the industry as seen by the acknowledgement by the three political parties that the transformation in the broadcasting sector will only be done through the BSA which is captured in the Global political Agreement through article 19, a tacit admission of the undemocratic nature of the media landscape.
My concern arises when the entire nation is reduced to a position of discussing ‘jingles’ from Cabinet to a kindergarten child. The solution does not lie in stopping the jingles.
It happened with Nathaniel Manheru in The Herald being temporarily suspended after the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) before bouncing back with ultra zealous venom spewing, what if ZBC starts flighting dead bodies or the clips of people being chopped off their hands in a manner reminiscent of the June 27 violence orchestra?
Will we start talking of dead bodies? It’s wiser to deal with the root cause of the problem specifically through transforming it from state to public broadcaster.
There are bigger problems at ZBC which clearly show that its behaviour is that of a state broadcaster as opposed to a genuine public broadcaster which needs strong leadership to deal with as noted below:
l Massive corruption as seen by the recent vehicle acquisition without going to tender;
l Editorial interference from the government through the Information ministry;
l Limited access with an average reach countrywide of slightly above 60% mostly through radio;
l Acting as a party mouth- piece;
l Crisis of staff recruitment through appointment of the CEO and the board by the Information ministry which compromises impartiality of staff when discharging its duties;
l Exclusion of minority languages and;
l Lack of credibility emanating from the afore-stated factors among others.
Against such a glaring crisis one will be left dazzled when the political order of the day concentrates on resolving the symptoms emerging as the root cause of the catastrophe.
If the country is to genuinely own ZBC, a comprehensive way of doing it is to deal with the ‘jingles’ debate as a total approach towards undoing the rot from top to bottom in compliance with international standards and norms.
The public service responsibility of a transformed ZBC should be clearly set out in law, and must strive for the following minimum requirements:
l To provide top quality, independent programming that contributes to a plurality of opinions and an informed public;
l To provide comprehensive news and current affairs programming, which is impartial, accurate and balanced;
l To provide a wide range of broadcast material that strikes a balance between programming of wide appeal and specialised programmes that serve the needs of minority audiences;
l To be universally accessible and serve all the people and regions of the country;
l To provide educational programmes and programmes directed towards children; and,
l To promote local programme production, through minimum quotas for original productions and material produced by independent producers.
For this to happen, our current laws governing broadcasting such as the BSA should be repealed and give way to a democratic law that establishes an independent broadcasting regulatory framework that is answerable to the Parliament of Zimbabwe.
If we are serious as a country, these are simple matters which have been achieved across the region.
We need to stop the culture of pretending to be reforming the institutions and set forth before dawn.
l Tabani Moyo is a journalist who recently relocated to Harare from Gokwe. He can be contacted at rebeljournalist@yahoo.com

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