Govt opens up broadcasting sector to foreign investors

Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services deputy minister Kindness Paradza said budget constraints had become a hindrance to digitalisation.

GOVERNMENT says foreign investors can now hold 40% shareholding in local broadcasting firms.

This comes as the local media sector is lagging most of its regional peers in terms of digitalisation. It still relies on outdated infrastructure.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Zimbabwe Institution of Strategic Thinking in Harare last week, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services deputy minister Kindness Paradza said budget constraints had become a hindrance to digitalisation.

“We have allowed the foreigners to come and invest in the broadcasting service sector. We have allowed foreigners now to have 40% of shareholding in broadcasting. The threshold within the region is only 20%, but we have brought it up to 40%,” he said.

“And, not only that, but we have also said directorship can also be 40% by foreigners. So, out of 10 directors, four of them can be foreigners. We said with my boss (Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister Monica Mutsvangwa) that we want to transform this industry into a multibillion industry.”

He said budget constraints had become a hindrance to complete digitalisation which requires US$8 million.

“Right now, out of 48 transmitters, only 18 are digitally compliant. We are eight years behind, but it’s because of the economy and the budget constraints. We cannot get US$8 million to finish off the digitalisation programme. So they are left with 30 transmitters so that they are digital compliant,” Paradza said.

According to the World Bank, the information and communication technology sector, lying at the core of the digital economy, is recognised as central to turning around the Zimbabwean economy.

A 2021 report titled Digital Economy For Zimbabwe: Country Diagnostic Report found that digital entrepreneurship is a nascent yet growing area in Zimbabwe which could attract a lot of investment.

However, the bank noted that this was conditional on key regulatory reforms, improved co-ordination with the private sector and at least macroeconomic stabilisation.

“You recall that we were the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to have a radio station ahead of South Africa in 1933. Thus, when radio was first produced in this country and television was produced in 1960, it was ahead of South Africa and other countries in the Sub-Sahara region,” Paradza said.

“But, because of our policies, colonial policies, and us inheriting those policies, we were overtaken by Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. They have so many community radio stations and commercial radio stations.”

Since the introduction of television services, the country had only one government-owned television channel.

It was only recently that, after about 60 years, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe granted television licences to six private companies after shortlisting 14 applicants.

Zimbabwe Media Commission deputy commissioner Jasper Maposa said the four key elements of the media were “demonolisation”, decolonisation, decentralisation and democratisation.

“The role of the media is intertwined — interconnected with developmental pursuits of any country, Zimbabwe included. The state of a nation’s media reflects the country’s value system which either attracts or repels investment,” he said.

Visual Point Creative Group chief operating officer Vincent Kahiya said the media could be used to brand the country to attract investment.

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