Permanent secretaries of media and information across the globe generally mislead. Zimbabwe’s Information and Publicity permanent secretary George Charamba is no exception.
It’s a virtue which he has perfected over time.
In his submissions to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technology, he presented his opinion as fact that the current broadcasting infrastructure does not allow for new broadcasting entries in an industry which is characterised by state monopoly through the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).
Sadly this has been the misleading position we have been subjected to since independence in 1980.
In assessing how Charamba misled Parliament, one needs to first tackle the following issues:
The contradictions in the Ministry of Information;
Zimbabwe’s capacity to monitor and regulate new entries in broadcasting; and
Zimbabwe’s frequency spectrum capacity vis-a-vis its capacity to absorb new players.
Under normal democratic circumstances, that ministry has no use. It’s archaic.
Virtually the same month after Information minister Webster Shamu had called upon the government to register new players in the broadcasting industry through the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), the accounting officer in the ministry pitches up a saddening position.
One questions whether it reflects where the power centres are vested at the ministry.
Definitely, the powers are not vested in the minister.
If Shamu had the powers, he would have long reprimanded Charamba.
Whatever the case, the permanent secretary has shown arrogance and that due to his proximity to power, as the spokesperson of the President, he can toss around Zanu PF ministers with impunity.
He wants to present himself as a mini-Cabinet where all “obedient sons” will pander to his misleading statements.
Given such a reality, where is the Deputy Minister of Information and Publicity Zwizwai Murisi hiding?
One would expect such a person to make a principled stand against the misleading statements peddled by Charamba that the country has no capacity to license new players.
I last heard of Murisi on the day he took oath at State House. The path he took thereafter remains speculative.
Probably he went quiet as he was when he was still the Deputy Minister of Mines and Mining Development.
If he has any strategy for media reforms, then he hasn’t made it public.
In essence, the ministry has become a centre of contradictions with the minister paying lip serving for new entries, and accounting officer Charamba dismissing the minister.
It’s breath- taking that one would forgive the comrade if he had dropped from the moon yesterday.
It’s a paradox that the country has the capacity to jam the external radio stations broadcasting on shortwave, but cannot manage to regulate frequency modulation (FM) broadcasters. This is clearly lazy thinking.
With the current infrastructure, the government is busy spying on people who are conversing through telephone calls, cellular and e–mail.
What makes Charamba think that we as a people have become pedestrian to the point that we will believe him that the state does not have capacity to monitor the airwaves?
This is a myth aimed at ensuring that Zanu PF goes to the referendum and elections with an upper hand in terms of selling its stale message to the electorate through ZBC.
According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Zimbabwe has the capacity to register 56 district (community) radio stations; 31 commercial radio stations; three national television stations and two national commercial FM radio stations.
The ITU also points out that the numbers can easily double if the government applies during the migration period from analogue to digital broadcasting.
Koenie Schuttle of the LS South Africa Radio Communications argues that Zimbabwe has a total FM frequency allocation of 189 and analogue TV allocation of 200.
This is the capacity which the afore-stated community, commercial radio and television stations will fit in.
This is virtually the same capacity within the region, though Zimbabwe has the lowest frequencies because it has not been applying for the doubling of its frequencies with the ITU.
One, therefore, wonders why Charamba thinks Zimbabwe’s broadcasting is a peculiar state threat when the rest of the region has moved on from the guerilla liberation movement mindset to responsive mechanisms that answer to the society’s needs specifically of new broadcasters offering a variety of views so that the society can make informed decisions.
Countries such as Zambia and South Africa and the majority of Sadc member states are focusing their energies on the migration plans from analogue to digital broadcasting and assessing how it strengthens their three-tier systems of broadcasting.
Charamba should be reminded that his principals in government, namely President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara are in agreement on the need to introduce new players in broadcasting through article 19 of the Global Political Agreement.
The parties agreed that new players shall be registered in the broadcasting sector immediately.
However, it is through people like Charamba who have since made the freeing of the airwaves an outstanding issue.
We hope Parliament will ensure that registration of new players in broadcasting becomes a reality in Zimbabwe, with or without Charamba’s consent.
Tabani Moyo can be contacted at email@example.com