Six new free-to-air private television stations will go live in Zimbabwe within the next 18 months, joining ZBCTV, after the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) yesterday issued licences, ending the 64-year monopoly enjoyed by the Sate-owned broadcaster.
The move effectively frees the airwaves, with private television stations joining private radio stations as the Second Republic implements a raft of political, economic and social reforms to make Zimbabwe an upper middle income economy by 2030.
Since 1956, Zimbabwe had only one television service but upon assuming office in 2018, officials in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services pledged to license more.
Licensing of use of airways is required as frequencies and bands have to be allocated, and there are only a limited number of these in each country.
Zimpapers Television Network (ZTN), a subsidiary of diversified media group Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) Ltd, was one of the channels awarded a free-to-air television licence. The other five are Rusununguko Media (Pvt) Ltd — trading as NRTV, Jester Media trading as 3K TV, Acacia Media Group — trading as Kumba TV, Fairtalk Communications — trading as Ke Yona TV — and Channel Dzimbahwe — trading as Channel D.
Of the 14 companies that applied for television licences, six were awarded licences after public hearings conducted last month in line with requirements of the 2013 Constitution, with the main cause of failure being a finding of inability to meet requirements after a rigorous verification process to establish the capacity of applications.
The winning applicants must go live within 18 months from the day the licences were announced, otherwise their licences will be passed to someone else after another round of applications.
Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Senator Monica Mutsvangwa yesterday said the Second Republic was not ending with the six new stations, but was working on giving licences to more community radio stations.
When she was appointed Minister, Sen Mutsvangwa pushed to re-establish the BAZ board, which had not been operating for close to five years, and that lack had derailed the process of implementing media reforms which President Mnagagwa has said must be prioritised.
“These are exciting times and the Second Republic is not going back on giving information to people. We know the importance of reaching out to everyone.
“The President, when he was inaugurated, talked about Zimbabwe being open for business and the importance of access to information which is actually enshrined in Section 51 and 52 of our Constitution.
“We have been working hard to ensure that we give Zimbabweans variety. We hope that those issued with licences start working on them and ensure Zimbabweans have variety,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.
Upon assuming office in 2018, Minister Mutsvangwa and Permanent Secretary Mr Nick Mangwana targeted urgent media reforms and in a short time, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) has been repealed and replaced with the universally accepted Freedom of Information Act which is in agreement with the country’s Constitution.
The ministry’s vision is to create a toxic-free media environment that does not polarise the nation. The opening of the country’s airwaves will soon see more community radio stations being set up to promote media pluralism.
“The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe wishes to advise the public that the process of licensing new television services has been completed,” BAZ board chairman Mr Charles Sibanda
“The authority processed the applications in terms of the requirements of the Broadcasting Services Act including conducting public inquiries to determine applicant’s suitability to be issued with broadcasting services licences,” he said.
The chair of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, Mbizo legislator Mr Settlement Chikwinya (MDC-Alliance), said: “It is a welcome opportunity for Zimbabwe in terms of promoting media diversity and plurality. The additional six television stations must be an opportunity for the Zimbabwean populace to freely express themselves with regards to matters of national interest.”
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) secretary-general Foster Dongozi said the Union was excited by the liberalisation of the airwaves which would create more jobs for media workers.
“The licencing of these television stations is a welcome development especially when we look at it from a trade union perspective. It is going to bring development to the media industry and contribute in a big way towards, the creation of jobs for media personnel. It contributes to freedom of expression and is part of the ongoing media reforms that have been promised,” said Dongozi.
Zimpapers chief executive officer Mr Pikirayi Deketeke expressed excitement at the decision by BAZ a award to award ZTN a free-to-air broadcasting licence.
“We are both humbled and enthused by the Authority’s recognition of the value that ZTN has added to Zimbabwe’s media landscape and the broader knowledge and information industry. It is testament to our capacity to deliver a world-class broadcasting service commensurate with the company’s existing investments in production infrastructure, skills and content production,” he said.
Since July 2018, ZTN had been market-testing its product, broadcasting on multiple digital media platforms.
Its content mix, comprising entertainment; sport; news and current affairs, had expanded the pool of information on Zimbabwe and provided diversity.
“As stated in our licensing bid presentation in October 2020, the majority shareholder in Zimpapers are the people of Zimbabwe through the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust. As such, it is incumbent upon Zimpapers to ensure it leads the development of the country’s media landscape.
“Globally, the evolution of media hinges on convergence of multiple content platforms — print, radio, digital media platforms and television. The focus is on content and technology as audience preferences and tastes continue to change. Therefore, the Zimbabwean story is only effectively told in text, voice, video and graphics,” said Mr Deketeke.
Zimpapers already employed over 1 000 Zimbabweans and expansion into television would see the company employ more and also benefit independent content creators downstream.
“The Zimpapers Group is also grateful to viewers of ZTN whose goodwill and positive feedback cannot be understated. Audiences are central to any media business, and many have already begun the journey with ZTN.
“We will continue to deliver quality content, guided by the national interest and public benefit.”
ZTN’s products have had huge social media following and head of station Nomsa Nkala, has said they will meet the 18 months deadline to go live.
“Expect ZTN to be live within the 18 months set by the regulator. We are getting ready to launch our channel,” she said.
Acacia Media Group shareholder Ms Sharon Mugabe said she was excited to play a part in the development of the industry.
“We will be emotionally attached to our audience. We will play our part in the development of the television industry in Zimbabwe and whilst we are doing this, we will remain profitable,” she said.