‘A better media landscape for all’

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.

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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:

  1. a) Expediting the finalisation of the Digital Terrestrial Television project, which entails migration from analogue television broadcasting to digital;
  2. b) Ensuring that all media laws – Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and others – are aligned to the Constitution;
  3. c) Attending to the protracted issue of fully opening up of the airwaves by licensing more broadcasters, particularly for television and community radio stations;
  4. 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
  5. 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, high-tech 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.

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