NewsDay (Zimbabwe)

BAZ should be fair in awarding licences

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THE Broadcasti­ng Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) will not publicise how the regulatory authority scored applicants that were awarded free to air commercial television broadcasti­ng licences, BAZ acting chief executive Matthias Chakanyuka has said.

Chakanyuka made these remarks while appearing before the Parliament­ary Portfolio Committee on Informatio­n, Media and Broadcasti­ng Services during an online hearing held on February 18, 2021.

BAZ was invited to appear before the committee to submit oral evidence on the awarding of the six television stations’ licences by the regulatory authority in November last year.

Responding to Mutasa South legislator Regai Tsunga (MDC Alliance), on whether the regulatory authority was going to make public how it scored those that were awarded licences in the spirit of transparen­cy, Chakanyuka said that publicisin­g the results would jeopardise future applicatio­n processes.

On whether those that had been awarded licences were diverse, Chakanyuka told legislator­s that it remained to be seen whether there would be diversity in the programmin­g of these stations.

However, diversity in broadcasti­ng remains a major considerat­ion in truly democratic societies.

Internatio­nal norms and standards consider diversity in terms of different ideologica­l viewpoints, as reflected in the availabili­ty of media content reflecting a variety of perspectiv­es and diversity in terms of programmin­g, as indicated by a variety of formats and content.

There is also outlet diversity, to ensure the presence of multiple independen­tly owned media outlets within a geographic market and in terms of minority and female ownership of broadcast media outlets.

The authority said it was not primarily concerned with the question of diversity in the licensing process as it mainly focused on technical specificat­ions and financial plans, among other market and general considerat­ions.

The regulatory authority said citizens would bear the costs of securing set-top boxes (STBs) and/or decoders, to be able to access these television stations as they would only be accessible on digital platforms.

Zimbabwe is currently implementi­ng the digitisati­on programme and the regulatory authority updated Parliament by saying that 18 of the targeted 48 transmitte­rs had been digitised.

Misa Zimbabwe/Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) position

Misa Zimbabwe and MAZ reiterate that BAZ should maintain the highest standards of transparen­cy in licensing processes to ensure credibilit­y, fairness and diversity through those that are awarded licences.

Section 61 provides for the provision of broadcasti­ng services as a citizen right, subject to regulation­s. It is, therefore, prudent for the regulatory authority to fairly distribute the limited frequencie­s by being transparen­t and accountabl­e to the public.

MAZ and Misa Zimbabwe further note the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, which may affect the operations of the licensed television stations.

The income of commercial broadcaste­rs is largely made from advertisin­g and with the downsizing and closing down of businesses, there is a real risk that the licensed television stations may not be able to kick-start their broadcasti­ng within the stipulated 18 months.

Misa Zimbabwe and MAZ, therefore, urge the government to ensure that the newly-licensed television players and by extension the entire media sector, are sustainabl­e.

Misa Zimbabwe & MAZ

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