Dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion project to cover 80% view­ers

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News - Tendai Mu­gabe in Kariba

THE dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion project be­ing spear­headed by Govern­ment through the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion, Me­dia and Broad­cast­ing Ser­vices will re­sult in 80 per­cent of the coun­try re­ceiv­ing ra­dio and tele­vi­sion trans­mis­sion sig­nals.

Modal­i­ties are be­ing worked out to en­sure the re­main­ing 20 per­cent ben­e­fit from the dig­i­talised sta­tions.

Over and above that, there are sev­eral ben­e­fits that are go­ing to ac­crue to both view­ers and play­ers in the broad­cast­ing in­dus­try.

In­for­ma­tion, Me­dia and Broad­cast­ing Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Mr George Charamba, re­vealed this yes­ter­day af­ter tour­ing two new dig­i­tal trans­mit­ter sites un­der con­struc­tion in Siyakobvu and Kariba.

“In the first place, there is uni­ver­sal ac­cess,” he said. “The way we have struc­tured this whole project is such that we are look­ing at upward 80 per­cent reach of the Zim­bab­wean cit­i­zenry. That has never been done in the his­tory of this coun­try.

“It will mean we have 80 per­cent of our peo­ple con­nected and even the re­main­ing 20 per­cent will be on the grid to the ex­tent that we are look­ing at ex­plor­ing a mix of tech­nolo­gies to en­sure that we beat that out­stand­ing 20 per­cent such that we are re­ally aim­ing for uni­ver­sal reach. It’s one of the ma­jor at­tributes of mea­sur­ing the en­joy­ment of free­dom of ex­pres­sion as a hu­man right.

“The sec­ond gain which is linked to the first one has to do with the his­tor­i­cal fea­tures of our own coun­try. There was a time when tele­vi­sion and ra­dio was a pre­rog­a­tive of the peo­ple who lived on the back­bone of the coun­try and in his­tor­i­cal terms it meant whites.”

He de­scribed the project as the first of its kind pri­ori­tis­ing ru­ral ar­eas ahead of ur­ban cen­tres.

“We are one project that prides it­self for start­ing from the pe­riph­ery go­ing to the cen­tre,” he said.

“That is a re­ver­sal of the de­vel­op­ment par­a­digm that we had his­tor­i­cally.

“Gen­er­ally, we have to start in the cap­i­tal and then hope­fully trickle down to the pe­riph­ery. In our case we de­cided to go and start from the out­ward and then move to the cen­tre. What that means is we have chal­lenged the es­tab­lished par­a­digm of de­vel­op­ment by fo­cus­ing on where the peo­ple are – namely in the ru­ral ar­eas. But more im­por­tantly look­ing at el­e­ments of so­cial jus­tice in the de­vel­op­ment of in­fra­struc­ture be­cause es­sen­tially, when you are tar­get­ing peo­ple who have been out of the loop it means you are now recog­nis­ing that in fact de­vel­op­ment must up­hold that el­e­ment of so­cial jus­tice. So where you have an in­te­gra­tion of de­vel­op­ment the­ory and prac­tise as well as so­cial po­lit­i­cal goal, it means you have a per­fect mix.”

In the dig­i­tal world, Mr Charamba said, view­ers and lis­ten­ers would en­joy a wide range of sta­tions of their choice.

Said Mr Charamba: “There is some­thing called viewer choice. From the very on­set of tele­vi­sion and even ra­dio, Zim­bab­weans and his­tor­i­cally Rhode­sians, were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what is called mo­nop­oly broad­cast­ing ser­vices.

“We only started see­ing a lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of air­waves with ra­dios and this not far back in time. What we are go­ing to see af­ter dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion is a real ex­plo­sion of ser­vices done by dif­fer­ent li­censees and what that means is that the view­ers will have a broader choice in terms of views op­tions — choice by genre, choice by com­pe­tence, choice by stan­dard, choice by sub­ject mat­ter and when you have that kind of en­vi­ron­ment, it means there will be stiff com­pe­ti­tion among li­censees and once you have stiff com­pe­ti­tion then it means the view­ers will not only ben­e­fit by way of qual­ity of the prod­uct but also ben­e­fit by way of af­ford­abil­ity of ser­vices and there is no way you can ever in­dulge on mo­nop­oly of pric­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment where there is an upward of 20 other op­er­a­tors be­cause the viewer will flee from your site to a site which is more in­ter­est­ing and af­ford­able.”

Mr Charamba added: “We have taken a very care­ful de­ci­sion to en­sure that we don’t have a false di­ver­sity and by false di­ver­sity, I mean a sit­u­a­tion where peo­ple will be im­port­ing pro­grammes from out­side of our borders.

“And what out­side of our borders in broad­cast­ing terms doesn’t mean South Africa, Tan­za­nia, Ghana, Malawi or Zam­bia. I don’t know maybe it’s a ter­ri­ble colo­nial hang­over that we have. It al­ways means Bri­tain, Amer­ica, Aus­tralia, Canada and France. Our sense of di­ver­sity means western. I don’t know whether we have re­ally stopped to ex­am­ine the im­pli­ca­tion of that – that each time we want good pro­gram­ming we go Amer­i­can, each time we want good pro­gram­ming we have to go Aus­tralian.”

Mr Charamba said Govern­ment in­tro­duced a 75 per­cent lo­cal content pol­icy to guard against im­por­ta­tion of content adding that the same re­quire­ment was also a boon for content pro­duc­ers.

“That el­e­ment of in­sist­ing on 75 per­cent lo­cal content will mean that the viewer will have a di­ver­sity of choice but within the cir­cum­scrip­tion of that which is African,” he said.

“The 75 per­cent lo­cal content re­quire­ment means mas­sive em­ploy­ment cre­ation, it means mas­sive value, it means mas­sive cul­tural state­ment from Zim­babwe. It means a Zim­babwe that can ex­port – that does not lis­ten but that speaks glob­ally. That is the vi­sion we have in the min­istry to cre­ate a coun­try that speaks to the world and speaks em­phat­i­cally. So re­ally, we go be­yond meet­ing the pro­gram­ming re­quire­ment of these 20 sta­tions to look­ing at ser­vic­ing a uni­ver­sal mar­ket in­clud­ing those coun­tries that have been abus­ing us his­tor­i­cally – thanks to our own gen­eros­ity be­cause we must do what is called counter pen­e­tra­tion where es­sen­tially we are push­ing out our pro­grammes.”

Mr Charamba said the dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion project fit­ted in well within ZimAs­set.

Dur­ing the first leg of his tour in Siyakobvu, Mr Charamba ex­pressed mis­giv­ings on the na­ture of the job done where one of the legs of the tower was con­demned.

He was, how­ever, happy in Kariba where ex­cel­lent en­gi­neer­ing work was done on the tower site which is on top of a moun­tain.

“The work done here was per­fect but it is also mon­u­men­tal in the sense that it is a ma­jor de­par­ture in en­gi­neer­ing terms from what I have seen hith­erto,” he said.

“Never have I ever gone to a site where we have to cre­ate an ar­ti­fi­cial lev­el­ling base where we have to chal­lenge to­pog­ra­phy in or­der to es­tab­lish more room for our con­struc­tion. More im­por­tantly, the tower is out of the or­di­nary. It’s a feat in en­gi­neer­ing terms.”

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