The Sunday Mail
Takaidzwa Dennis Rwafa
IT was so refreshing to see a young lady, Ms Adelaide Chikunguru, recently being appointed substantive chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).
Yes, refreshing, not only because this brings hope and vibrancy to the national broadcaster, but for a change, we have a woman at the helm in a substantive capacity. However, that position has in the past been fraught with challenges and pitfalls, as most of her predecessors fell by the wayside, not necessarily because of corruption nor inefficiency, but sometimes interference in the form of micro-management and a disabling working environment.
Since the year 2000, the turnover of senior executives including the CEO and Members of the Board, has been unprecedented! It seemed the Board was replaced and the Board would in turn replace the CEO and top management ad nauseum!
Surely there was something that was not right and needed to be corrected in order to awaken this Giant in Slumber called ZBC.
Sometimes when a policy is not serving its intended purpose, the best option is to change that policy and desist from hiring and firing the Board and staff willy-nilly. I will expand on this later.
I was privileged to work in the Ministry of Information, the parent Ministry for ZBC, for 20 years after Independence, and I am proud to affirm that it was a golden era for the national broadcaster, which, arguably, was one of the primary sources of information for news, current affairs, sport and entertainment.
Landing a job at ZBC during that golden era was the dream of many, not only because the jobs were sought after, but indeed they brought with them glory, prestige, fame and admiration to ZBC reporters, presenters, news anchors and other staff from members of the public.
I treasure fond memories, in the mid-1980s, particularly of Bureau Chiefs who became household names and I can single out Norman “Biggie” Tirivavi, the pioneer ZBC Bureau Chief for Masvingo Province. At length, I was the Provincial Information Officer for the same province.
Norman was a journalist par excellence and commanded so much respect in the communities that we were serving to the extent that he had an army of admirers and well-wishers who formed his Fan Club. Even Biggie’s successors, the late Vincent Nyanhete and the late Charles Kawadza were equally good!
Former ZBC reporters, producers, and presenters who left for greener pastures abroad went on to do exceedingly well. This was after the whirlwind of retrenchments at ZBC following Parastatal Reforms which forced State Enterprises and parastatal bodies like ZBC to fend for themselves and would not be bailed out by Treasury.
The decline had begun not only for ZBC, but many other strategic State Agencies like National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), Air Zimbabwe, National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, (NOCZM), Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), and others that were facing similar challenges.
Notwithstanding its pride of place as a monopoly in the Media Industry, where many advertisers flocked to, ZBC was struggling financially, and relied mainly on licensing to generate revenue. What was not appreciated at length, was the aggressive nature of the ICT industry sweeping across the world that required a broadcaster like ZBC to either adapt or perish.
In order to adapt, ZBC needed to offer content that was trending with the times. With a shoe-string budget and antiquated equipment and poor content, the advertisers were leaving the corporation in droves.
It is at that juncture that ZBC should have taken on board Independent Producers to provide relevant local content to keep television viewers glued to their TV sets. Advertisers follow the viewers!
This was exacerbated by cut-throat competition from Pay-TV channels like MultiChoice/DStv from South Africa. It would be most unfair to compare our national broadcaster with the South African giant because ZBC is not operating a subscription service or pay-tv.
You remember the biblical “unequal yoking” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Those of us who grew up in rural areas know that it was not allowed to harness a strong ox on the same yoke with a donkey.
Unfortunately the advertising cake remains the same, hence the stiff competition.
Fast forward to now. In May this year, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Authority (BAZ) awarded free-to-air television licenses to six new players namely, Zimpapers Television Network (ZTN), a subsidiary of the Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) Limited; Rusununguko Media trading as (t/a) NRTV; Jester Media t/a 3K TV; Acacia Media Group t/a Kumba TV; Fairtalk Communications t/a Ke YonaTV; and Channel Dzimbabwe t/a Channel D. These free-to-air channels have been given a deadline of 18 months to come on air.
We also have Netflix that is even threatening the very existence of MultiChoice by availing the latest movies online. The point is, ZBC must be innovative to woo back those advertisers who did not renew advertising contracts and attract new ones to come on board.
It is no longer business as usual.
On the local content issue, big bucks are not only needed but it is imperative that the broadcaster commissions independent producers so create content especially 13-week local soap operas so that at the end of the 18 months when the new players come in, ZBC would remain afloat.
The ZBC Marketing Department has this monumental task to accomplish in the coming weeks and months.
On the side of the State, I am not sure if DSTV and our Government came to some mutual arrangement besides DSTV only paying corporate tax, yet siphoning to South Africa, millions of US dollars from monthly subscriptions paid by Zimbabweans. However, what I have heard is that in Zambia, the government owns 40 percent of MultiChoice!
Now, coming to the thorny issue of licensing for Radio and Television, people may be justified to complain if they pay TV licenses yet programming is atrocious. Be that as it may, a gentle reminder may be necessary here.
There exists a ZBC Act passed by Parliament that empowers ZBC to collect license fees from anyone who owns a device that is capable of receiving or transmitting radio or TV signals.
Wait a minute! Here is an issue that many people are not be aware of. The same Act empowers ZBC to collect a levy for your mobile telephone device because it is capable of transmitting telecommunication signals enabling you to listen to the radio or watch television Online.
Lawyers may argue this until chickens come home to roost, but that is the plain truth. The only solace is that ZBC has not yet decided how to collect that revenue and what quantum they can levy.
Most probably at the point when you buy airtime and buy data bundles for your device!
I wish to deny categorically that I am an advocate for such an eventuality, but just to inform the uninitiated that the law is already in place only that it has not been enforced.
Why do I raise these controversial arguments? A case has to be built not only to convince Treasury to come up with a rescue package for ZBC, but to show pointers to the available revenue streams that can be tapped into.
Ms Chikunguru needs that money to modernise and refurbish the studios, buy state-of-the-art equipment like cameras that transmit in real time; pay staff competitive salaries in order to retain them on the job, and pay international rates to Independent Local Content Producers to attract advertisers back to ZBC.
Cynics may argue that the money will be abused to buy new cars. I share those sentiments because I have seen struggling parastatals, even Government departments and companies in the private sector rushing to buy fleets of fuel guzzlers at a time when employees are wallowing in abject poverty. Such cars have really become a curse to Zimbabwe! Why can’t we just resist that temptation?
To our companies in the private sector, for the next 18 months, they may wish to support our own national broadcaster by flighting adverts on radio and television. Agreed, they have a choice to advertise on Facebook and other online platforms, but that is not building a “Zollywood” (Hollywood in Zimbanwe) just like Nollywood (Nigeria), Bollywood (India), which are contributing significantly to the GDPs of their respective countries by boosting their creative industries and creating millions of jobs.
The Creative Industry in Zimbabwe has such a huge potential and ZBC and the upcoming free-to-air television stations will become an integral part of it. All ZBC needs now is a stimulus package for it to take off before competition catches up.
The starting point is to secure a rescue package for at least six months under very stringent disbursement arrangements. By so doing, the Giant in Slumber is being awakened and the prolific cash cow will produce milk in abundance!
Hit the ground running while you still enjoy the goodwill Adelaide!
Takaidzwa Dennis Rwafa is a consultant on project financing in the mining sector. He worked for the Ministry of Information for 20 years as provincial information officer, diplomat, and rose to the position of deputy director. He served as public relations and conference manager for the National Economic Consultative Forum (NECF) and as director of information at the University of Zimbabwe. He can be contacted by e-mail [email protected]