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Broadcasting Act now archaic

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A few months ago, I got home from a church service to find a piece of paper thrown into our yard over the gate. When I scanned through it, I found out it was a threat from the national broadcaster, saying that ZBC had reason to suspect that I was in possession of either a television or radio set thus I should go to the nearest police station to pay up!

As a matter of principle, I disregarded the order. I stopped using the services of ZBC — either television or radio — many years ago, so I see no reason why I should be compelled to pay for services that I don’t use. In fact, in this day and age where multi-media technology has provided us with a broad range of choices, it should be my personal decision to choose whose service I want. And I will pay for it.

Many Zimbabweans are now subscribed to Digital Satellite Television (DStv in short), and month in, month out, they gladly pay subscription fees as a thumbs-up sign to the services that they are getting. By the nature of their services, ZBC are a competitor of DStv and should adhere to the rules of fair play where we should choose whose service we want to use and pay for it.

That they have to resort to threats of prosecution to prod people who do not watch their television programmes or listen to their radio programmes to pay licences shows great desperation. Indeed, the frustration is unmistakable. Do they ever ask themselves why people are reluctant to pay? They need look no further than the external SABC and such other broadcasters to learn some precious lessons on quality broadcasting.

But it seems they will not stop at anything, regardless of the legal challenge mounted by a Harare man questioning why those of us who neither watch ZTV nor listen to local radio stations should be compelled to have valid listeners and viewership licences. Currently, ZBC is running adverts informing all entrepreneurs trading in television and radio sets to be registered with the national broadcaster! The absurdity has just reached alarming levels.

Now that people are accessing alternative television services (from broadcasters other than ZBC) on new multi-media gadgets that include mobile phones, ipads and computers, I dread to imagine ZBC’s next move in which we may be ordered to have valid listeners and viewers’ licences for each of those gadgets. God forbid!

The Broadcasting Services Act Chapter 12:06 Section 38D (2) upon which the national broadcaster bases its argument, is now obsolete.
This piece of legislation was crafted at a time when ZBC was the sole broadcaster therefore, by default, everyone who possessed either a radio or television set used their services. But the game plan has since changed, with customers having deserted ZBC en masse in pursuit international broadcasters offering better services.

Honestly, ZBC’s products and services give me heartburn, and, if the proliferation of satellite dishes over people’s houses and businesses are anything to go by, many will agree with me on this point.
Sometimes I even wonder if ZBC still has a respectable client base. If people were happy and satisfied with the services and products on the broadcaster’s shelves, then they would not need any prodding and, at worst, coercion, to buy licences. The broadcaster needs to do some serious soul-searching as to why people who willingly part with as much as $75 for full bouquet of DStv programmes for just one month would resist to pay a mere $50 for a whole year of ZBC’s programming.

I believe our honourable legislators (sometimes I wonder if they still watch ZBC and pay for the licences) should revisit the archaic Broadcasting Services Act and make amendments in line with developments that have since taken place especially with the advent of satellite television and new multi-media technologies. It really does not make sense for a broadcaster to licence someone for the possession of a gadget through which that person also accesses broadcasting services from players other than ZBC itself. The law is faulty in as far as it empowers ZBC to licence someone for possession of a gadget rather than access of its services and products.

Zimpapers’ radio station, Star FM, is also broadcasting and its services are accessed through the same gadget where some people also access ZBC’s services. So what this means is that Star FM, being a same player in the same industry as ZBC, should also licence listeners.

This is just to show that we have a murky scenario that does not make sense at all on our hands and the sooner these contradictions are addressed, the better for listeners and viewers to whom ZBC has become nothing more than a nuisance.

I think the ideal situation would be one where a vehicle (a board, committee etc) is created, perhaps through the Ministry of Information and Publicity, which would license people for possession of information gadgets. This would be a licensing authority. In as far as the provision of products and services through our television and radio sets, ZBC is no different from other service providers such as the BBC, Sky News, CNN, SABC, Btv etc.

In a nutshell, ZBC needs to appreciate that it cannot escape the harsh march of technological advancements where little players that can’t stand the heat of competition have to do the honourable thing and bow out with grace rather than capitalise on unfair advantage.

feedback: pchidavaenzi@newsday.co.zw

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