BY VENERANDA LANGA
THE Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill, which will soon be brought before Parliament, will limit ownership of broadcasting stations to a maximum of 20% shareholding per individual in one broadcasting station.
Legal expert Tafadzwa Mugabe told MPs during a Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe-organised workshop on media laws in Gweru that section 23(a) of the proposed Bill will address issues of controlling several broadcasting licences and monopolies.
“The new section 23(a) and (b) of the Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill imposes limitations on cross media control of broadcasting services, and essentially, a person who controls
a newspaper may not have control of a commercial broadcasting licence in an area where a newspaper has circulation of 20% of the total newspaper readership if the licence area and
the circulation area overlap by 50% or more,” he said.
Mugabe said the law simply says one can be allowed into print and also broadcasting, but the threshold should only be 20%.
“What it means is that some broadcasting licences are going to be up for grabs so that there is compliance with the laws. It means a person who controls a newspaper may not have control of a commercial broadcasting licence in the area where their newspaper is circulating,” Mugabe said.
He also said section 7 of the proposed Broadcasting Services Bill will provide for foreign ownership of broadcasting stations for up to 20% stake, but it can be subject to increase to
25% stake, adding that it also stipulates that foreigners cannot constitute 20% in both investment and board members.
The legal expert said while local ownership of broadcasting stations is limited to only 20%, there is need for MPs to interrogate the issue looking at indigenisation regulations.
“Airwaves are national reserves and they should be elevated to a level of national resources that are important such as platinum and diamonds,” Mugabe said.
Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe executive director Loughty Dube said the clause was exclusionary because Zimbabwe has been declared a country which is open for business.
Media Alliance of Zimbabwe programmes manager Nigel Nyamutumbu described the ownership regulations as ambiguous.
“The clauses on ownership must be phrased in such a way that encourages Zimbabweans to own media houses, and also bear in mind that they will need capital injection so that the clause does not seem discriminatory,” Nyamutumbu said.
Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Prince Dubeko Sibanda, said inasmuch as airwaves must be controlled, the country needs to be alive to the fact that
Zimbabwe is open for business and therefore the media should not be a closed sector.
“The media sector can contribute highly to the gross domestic product and if we close the sector to foreign direct investment, then we are not doing ourselves a favour,” Sibanda said.
Mbizo MP Settlement Chikwinya said MPs need to look at the provision and scrutinise the Bill on whether it was relevant for today’s media houses that now own television and radio
Mberengwa South MP Alum Mpofu said media houses were now embracing convergence, adding that the clause must be scrutinised taking into cognisance the survival of the media.