Turning 40 years of independence this year, Zimbabwe is yet to have private television stations, with the government continuing to drag its feet on licensing independent players while Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) continues to enjoy a monopoly on the airwaves.
Successive ZANU-PF governments and the coalition government (2009-2013) have since 1980 failed to licence independent television players, notwithstanding Zimbabwe was one of the first countries in Southern Africa to have a television station.
Some of the reasons used as scapegoats for not opening up airwaves to private players have been the digitisation programme, which is yet to be completed.
In what appears like to be softening of stance, last week Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa said Zimbabwe expected to have licensed at least six independent television channels by August this year.
“There is competition coming,” said Mutsvangwa.
“Zimbabwe is going to see the emergence of at least six independent television channels within the next few months. This licensing should be completed before, or even well before August 2020, I mean this year. As a Government, we have shown our sincerity towards media landscape reform.”
Mutsvangwa added: “We are putting in place secondary enabling legislation to support the emergence of other players in the sector.”
Earlier on last week again, government gazetted prohibitive broadcasting fees with players in the free to air national television sector now required to part with ZW $42 500 00 initial application fee and ZW$306 000 00 per annum for a 10-year basic licence fee.
Social commentator, Sipho Nyoni, said he doubted the government’s sincerity in opening up airwaves to independent television players.
“The government is not in any way sincere about this,” said Nyoni.
“The very fact that it has taken 40 years to licence just one private television station speaks to this very fact and it would be ridiculous to think what couldn’t be done in 40 years can suddenly be done in six months.”
He said the government has over the years enjoyed the one state television monopoly scenario and would like to keep it that way for its own end purposes for the foreseeable future.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe has challenged the government to be sincere in the freeing of airwaves.
“It is within this scope that MISA Zimbabwe calls for the government to be holistic in the review of the media laws and the imperative need towards the genuine liberalisation of the industry to strengthen competition, which in case improves the quality of the programmes and support towards the development of the content generation industry, said MISA Zimbabwe in a statement recently.
“Further, the government should not be seen as using licensing as a technical barrier towards entry into the industry. The law and the fees should in actual fact be aimed at promoting the constitutional provisions that guarantee freedom of establishment.”
But Next Level Media, chief operating officer, Lee Mangena, said the government’s announcement could be heralding better times ahead for the broadcasting industry including community radios.
“It is a good sign we are excited because as next level media we intend to establish a community radio station,” said Mangena.
“We hope the process will be faster than when they issued out commercial radio licences.”