‘A bet­ter me­dia land­scape for all’

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - ANALYSIS - Hon Mon­ica Mutsvangwa

The new Min­is­ter of In­for­ma­tion, Public­ity and Broad­cast­ing Ser­vices Mon­ica Mutsvangwa reck­ons Zim­babwe’s me­dia in­dus­try is un­der­ex­plored and has po­ten­tial to de­velop into a key sec­tor through which Vi­sion 2030 can be achieved. She be­lieves the dig­i­tal mi­gra­tion pro­gramme will change the face of the coun­try’s me­dia land­scape, while laws that en­cum­ber the work of jour­nal­ists will be re­viewed within the next 100 days. Last week, she shared her vi­sion with The Sun­day Mail Se­nior Re­porter Lin­coln Towindo.

DESPITE the growth of in­for­ma­tion com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies and the busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties they present, the de­cline in the growth of the econ­omy that char­ac­terised the 18-year pe­riod prior to the emer­gence of the New Po­lit­i­cal Dis­pen­sa­tion in Novem­ber last year af­fected the me­dia in­dus­try as well.

As the new Min­is­ter Re­spon­si­ble for In­for­ma­tion, Public­ity and Broad­cast­ing Ser­vices, I will im­ple­ment pro­grammes and projects that will sta­bilise the sec­tor and give im­pe­tus to in­creased ca­pac­ity util­i­sa­tion and job cre­ation in me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions. In the medium-term, we want to en­sure that me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions have ac­cess to fi­nanc­ing fa­cil­i­ties avail­able in the mar­kets to en­able them to re­tool and pos­i­tively con­trib­ute to the coun­try’s so­cio-eco­nomic turn­around, which we ex­pect to cul­mi­nate in the re­al­i­sa­tion of His Ex­cel­lency, Pres­i­dent ED Mnan­gagwa, of trans­form­ing Zim­babwe into an up­per mid­dle-in­come econ­omy by the year 2030.

Pri­oti­ties

Pri­or­ity ar­eas in the early days of my ten­ure as the Min­is­ter of In­for­ma­tion, Public­ity and Broad­cast­ing Ser­vices in­clude:

a) Ex­pe­dit­ing the fi­nal­i­sa­tion of the Dig­i­tal Ter­res­trial Tele­vi­sion project, which en­tails mi­gra­tion from ana­logue tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ing to dig­i­tal;

b) En­sur­ing that all me­dia laws — Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion and Pro­tec­tion of Pri­vacy Act and oth­ers — are aligned to the Con­sti­tu­tion;

c) At­tend­ing to the pro­tracted is­sue of fully open­ing up of the air­waves by li­cens­ing more broad­cast­ers, par­tic­u­larly for tele­vi­sion and com­mu­nity ra­dio sta­tions;

d) Fol­low­ing through the find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions of In­for­ma­tion and Me­dia Panel of In­quiry (IMPI) re­port with a view to de­velop a me­dia pol­icy for the in­dus­try; and

e) En­sur­ing that paras­tatals fall­ing un­der the Min­istry are ra­tio­nalised as rec­om­mended by Cabi­net.

Cur­rently, we, to­gether with Deputy Min­is­ter (En­ergy) Mu­todi are in the mid­dle of our fa­mil­iari­sa­tion en­gage­ments with prac­ti­tion­ers in the me­dia sec­tor, its paras­tatals, me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions in the sec­tor — pub­lish­ers and broad­cast­ers — both pub­lic and pri­vately owned film­mak­ers, and ad­ver­tis­ers and oth­ers.

We have re­ceived vol­umes of doc­u­ments and in­for­ma­tion ap­pris­ing us of the state of af­fairs in the me­dia in­dus­try. As in­di­cated ear­lier, like other sec­tors, the me­dia in­dus­try is dis­tressed with many ex­pe­ri­enced prac­ti­tion­ers out of em­ploy­ment, while young grad­u­ates are fail­ing to find first-time em­ploy­ment in the sec­tor, a sit­u­a­tion that dashes away their hope for a bet­ter fu­ture.

The com­ple­tion of the na­tional DTT project is our hope for open­ing vast op­por­tu­ni­ties for both in­vest­ment and em­ploy­ment in the me­dia sec­tor. The dig­i­tal mi­gra­tion pro­gramme has al­ready started to cre­ate jobs for cre­ators of con­tent through­out the coun­try.

The min­istry has set up mech­a­nisms for en­gag­ing and sup­port­ing the con­tent cre­ators in prepa­ra­tion for the in­tro­duc­tion of more tele­vi­sion chan­nels in the new dig­i­tal era, which has got a po­ten­tial of cre­at­ing ten­fold op­por­tu­ni­ties for broad­cast­ers. So Gov­ern­ment will con­tinue to free up the air­waves to cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties for me­dia pro­fes­sion­als.

More play­ers

“Zim­babwe is open for busi­ness” is our new mantra, ral­ly­ing the whole coun­try to­wards rapid eco­nomic re­cov­ery to trans­form the coun­try into an up­per mid­dle-in­come econ­omy by the year 2030. In that re­gard, the broad­cast­ing sec­tor has to be fully open in or­der to con­trib­ute to the an­tic­i­pated so­cio-eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion.

As you may be aware, sev­eral new ra­dio sta­tions were li­censed and launched. To date, there are eight lo­cal com­mer­cial ra­dio sta­tions namely: Zim­pa­pers — Di­a­mond FM (Mutare), AB Com­mu­ni­ca­tions — Mid­lands 98.4 FM (Gweru), AB Com­mu­ni­ca­tions — Hevoi FM (Masvingo), Fairtalk Com­mu­ni­ca­tions — Skyz Metro FM (Bu­l­awayo), Fairtalk Com­mu­ni­ca­tions — Breeze FM (Vic­to­ria Falls), Ray of Hope — Ya FM (Zvisha­vane), Kingstons Hold­ings — Cap­italk FM (Harare) Kingstons Hold­ings — Nyaminyami FM (Kariba) and two na­tional com­mer­cial sta­tions, which are StarFM and ZiFM.

On the tele­vi­sion side, Zim­babwe Tele­vi­sion Net­work, which is owned by Zim­pa­pers, is com­ing on board af­ter be­ing li­censed.

Al­pha Me­dia Group and Kwese TV have each also been li­censed for satel­lite con­tent dis­tri­bu­tion. We are aware of the out­cry in the coun­try re­gard­ing the li­cens­ing of com­mu­nity ra­dio sta­tions. My task as the new min­is­ter is to com­plete the process of free­ing up the air­waves.

We will soon be tack­ling that is­sue with a view to en­sur­ing that com­mu­nity ra­dio sta­tions come on stream in the new dis­pen­sa­tion. We think that they are crit­i­cal in an en­vi­ron­ment where Gov­ern­ment is de­volv­ing gov­er­nance and pro­vi­sion of ser­vices to the prov­inces.

There­fore, within our first 100-Day Plan as Min­is­ters, we are go­ing to be work­ing on a pol­icy frame­work for the li­cens­ing of com­mu­nity ra­dio sta­tions.

Dig­i­tal mi­gra­tion

We are aware and in­formed that de­lays in im­ple­ment­ing the na­tional dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion pro­gramme, which en­vis­ages mi­gra­tion from ana­logue to dig­i­tal tele­vi­sion, have been mainly caused by the liq­uid­ity chal­lenges fac­ing our econ­omy.

How­ever, con­sid­er­ing the sig­nif­i­cant progress and in­vest­ment that Gov­ern­ment has al­ready made to­wards the Zim Dig­i­tal Project, $63 mil­lion al­ready in­vested, nine tow­ers are al­ready digi­tised and ready to trans­mit, not to men­tion dig­i­tal equip­ment and dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture that has been fit­ted, fixed and ready to be ex­ploited at broad­cast­ing stu­dios (Pock­ets Hill and Mon­trose) and trans­mis­sion cen­tres. It is im­per­a­tive that the na­tion en­joys the fruits of dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion, al­beit even be­fore the whole coun­try is cov­ered.

There­fore, our fo­cus as new min­is­ters is to make sure that the Zim Dig­i­tal Project is com­mis­sioned as soon as pos­si­ble. We are in­formed that for that to hap­pen, about a 100 set-top boxes need to be im­ported.

We are al­ready en­gaged with the project man­age­ment team, project fi­nanc­ing part­ners, project im­ple­ment­ing stake­hold­ers and have di­rected that the re­quired set-top boxes be im­ported as soon as pos­si­ble to en­able the im­me­di­ate par­tial launch of the dig­i­tal mi­gra­tion project within the next 100 days.

Rein­vig­o­rat­ing ZBC

Our ap­praisal about the state of af­fairs at the na­tional broad­caster, ZBC, through the present board of di­rec­tors and its man­age­ment dur­ing our first en­gage­ment meet­ings in­di­cate that ZBC is out of the woods and slowly but surely on a sus­tain­able re­cov­ery path to vi­a­bil­ity. The Cor­po­ra­tion is suc­cess­fully im­ple­ment­ing a medium-term strat­egy dove­tail­ing into 2019 and it is proud to have re­cently ac­com­plished the fol­low­ing in pur­suance of the plan which re­sulted from the 2014 KPMG Au­dit Re­port: • Dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion of five ra­dio and two tele­vi­sion stu­dios; • In­stal­la­tion of dig­i­tal ser­vices, high­tech sound pro­ces­sors and stu­dio fur­ni­ture; • Mod­i­fi­ca­tion of cargo vans to al­low mount­ing of cam­era crane; • Aug­men­ta­tion of ve­hi­cle fleet from 55 to 105; and • Im­proved credit wor­thi­ness to the ex­tent that banks are now will­ing to avail fund­ing for re­cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion.

The Cor­po­ra­tion trans­formed from be­ing a loss maker of US$19,6 mil­lion in 2013 to be­ing a profit maker, re­al­is­ing a profit of $$267 000 in 2017. How­ever, ZBC’s ef­forts to re­brand are fall­ing short in the eyes of its view­ers, some of whom think. . .that the Cor­po­ra­tion needs to do more in terms of im­prov­ing its pro­gram­ming con­tent.

We are for­tu­nate that we are now in the dig­i­tal era, which is ex­pected to yield div­i­dends for the na­tional broad­caster which is set to have a lion’s share of the dig­i­tal chan­nels availed by the dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion project.

One of the ad­van­tages of dig­i­tal trans­mis­sion over ana­logue is im­proved sig­nal qual­ity. There­fore, while one of the chal­lenges be­fore ZBC in en­ter­ing the dig­i­tal era is one of com­pe­ti­tion from other pri­vate broad­cast­ers that will be un­leashed by mi­grat­ing to dig­i­tal broad­cast­ing, its great­est chal­lenge is of cre­at­ing con­tent to fill up the five ad­di­tional tele­vi­sion chan­nels that it is guar­an­teed to get from the dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion project by virtue of be­ing the na­tional broad­caster.

As the new team at the min­istry, we will be fo­cus­ing on as­sist­ing ZBC’s chal­lenges, which in­clude a debt over­hang of $65 mil­lion, which they are seek­ing to be ware­housed by Gov­ern­ment.

We will also en­sure that there are ad­e­quate con­tent gen­er­a­tion fa­cil­i­ties in the coun­try, which broad­cast­ers will be able to rely on.

The min­istry en­vis­ages set­ting up six con­tent-cre­ation cen­tres, which may even­tu­ally be in­creased to one per prov­ince in the fu­ture.

It is our duty to make sure that the mi­gra­tion to dig­i­tal broad­cast­ing is ad­e­quately funded in terms of con­tent cre­ation and var­i­ous mod­els of en­sur­ing ad­e­quate broad­cast­ing con­tent in the coun­try will have to be con­sid­ered and de­ployed in or­der to make sure that the in­dus­try is at­trac­tive to pri­vate and for­eign in­vestors.

Me­dia laws re­view

We are con­scious of the chal­lenges raised in the past and con­tinue to be raised re­gard­ing this piece of leg­is­la­tion al­leged to im­pede on the work of jour­nal­ists.

Ad­dress­ing is­sues to do with Aippa will be part of our 100-Day Work Plan.

As new min­is­ters, we are get­ting ap­prised about what ex­actly it is that me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers find re­pul­sive about Aippa, which seeks to reg­u­late the me­dia with a view to mak­ing in­for­ma­tion ac­ces­si­ble to me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers as well as the pub­lic.

I re­in­force Gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion that the 2013 Con­sti­tu­tion over­rides any laws, their pro­vi­sions and reg­u­la­tions.

There­fore, any pro­vi­sions in Aippa that are con­trary to the Con­sti­tu­tion can be deemed to be presently in­valid.

So, our thrust within the first 100-Day Plan as far as Aippa is con­cerned is to do the nec­es­sary work within Par­lia­ment to en­sure that this leg­is­la­tion and other me­dia laws are not only fully aligned with the Con­sti­tu­tion, but also with the thrust of Gov­ern­ment to ra­tio­nalise Gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions (de­part­ments and paras­tatals) with a view to cur­tail­ing the cost of pub­lic sec­tor, goods and ser­vices.

Fur­ther­more, within the next 100 days, we will bring to fi­nal­ity the con­sul­ta­tive work of IMPI tak­ing pos­i­tive rec­om­men­da­tions and de­velop them into a me­dia in­dus­try pol­icy doc­u­ment.

His Ex­cel­lency the Pres­i­dent, Cde Em­mer­son Dam­budzo Mnan­gagwa’s thrust is open­ing the econ­omy and re-en­gag­ing the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity for the up­lift­ment of the liveli­hoods of all Zim­bab­weans.

His ad­min­is­tra­tion is driven by an un­der­stand­ing that it is no longer busi­ness as usual, with eco­nom­ics tak­ing the cen­tre stage and less pol­i­tics.

Deputy Min­is­ter En­ergy Mu­todi

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