HARARE – The High Court’s decision to grant Kwese TV satellite television services rights in Zimbabwe has been hailed by media practitioners, lawyers, artistes as a victory as it paves way for full liberalisation of the broadcasting sector which has over the years been dominated by State-run ZBC.
Last month, Kwese TV announced that it was launching its satellite television services in Zimbabwe through its partner and content distributor, Dr Dish Private Limited.
Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) was however quick to respond by cancelling Dr Dish Private Limited’s license with the latter challenging the new development at the High Court where they won the case.
The Daily News caught up with several commentators who are of the opinion that Baz overreacted and exposed government reluctance to free the broadcasting spectrum to independent players ahead of the 2018 elections.
They also hope the licensing of Kwese TV will see more players coming on board, among them community radio stations.
Lawyer Jacqueline Chikakano said the coming on board of Kwese TV or any other player in television broadcasting in Zimbabwe is a very much needed development which should enhance pluralism and diversity in this sector.
“Well, media freedoms in Zimbabwe have historically been a contested entitlement both in print and electronic media but especially in the latter.
“The end of ZBC monopoly took litigation and even though the law is very clear that the country has a three-tier broadcasting system in terms of the broadcasting services Act that has not facilitated the expected full opening up of the airwaves so it is not surprising that this development with Kwese TV required court intervention.
“Chikakano said the continued non-licensing of community radios is an example of how the existing legal framework has not necessarily translated or facilitated the envisaged freedom of establishment of broadcasters protected in section 61 (3) of the Constitution.
“It also required court intervention because the Broadcasting Services Act in some instances bequeaths wide powers on Baz, for example, its provisions on the suspension or cancellation of licenses give wide powers on Baz to decide whether or not to hold a public inquiry to determine the suspension or cancellation of a licence.
“Considering the huge amount of capital investment that goes into the broadcasting industry, the law would be better off making such inquiries mandatory amongst other measures to ensure that such matters are given the fullest consideration possible.”
Media Alliance of Zimbabwe programmes manager Nigel Nyamutumbu said the time is nigh for government to review the country’s broadcast laws and media laws in general.
“It is clear that the unconstitutionally established Baz has a sinister agenda to have control of the country’s airwaves as opposed to democratically regulating the broadcast landscape.
“The initial ban of Kwese TV and subsequent High Court case were unnecessary distractions.
“While we celebrate the entry of new players in the media industry, we are also cognisant of the reality that without media laws and policy reforms the airwaves will never belong with the people but with the ruling elite,” said Nyamutumbu.
Producer and actor Daves Guzha said as an industry player and employer he welcomes this move.
“Growth in our sector has been stymied by these closed door policies which mitigate the flow of information and job creation as a human right.
“Now that Kwese TV has been granted permission, the debate which should be occupying centre stage is whether there is a quota system which applies to the creation and broadcast of content which comes from them. Granted, it is satellite or fibre but I believe Kwese TV must be underpinned to images of our continent first.
“As for the case going to High Court, I think it wasn’t necessary. But then again, bearing in mind that quite a number of our laws and legislation need revamping as they are inconsistent with our Constitution, one would say; yes it was a necessary evil to go to court in the absence of our Parliament quickly adapting and adopting some of these changes.”
Misa Zimbabwe Broadcasting and ICT Programmes Officer, Koliwe Majama said while this development means there is an alternative for satellite television for the Zimbabwean citizens, it is largely in terms of the options for payment for television.
“This will obviously be ideal for the Zimbabwean audience given the changes with payment, particularly also that being a part of the Econet family, payments will easily be made via mobile money transactions, which are already a very convenient mode of transacting in the country at the moment.
“Given the economic challenges, particularly the lack of cash in circulation, paying DStv was becoming a headache for a lot of their subscribers.”
Majama said this victory by Dr Dish is a mere indication of the need to urgently relook at the whole licensing framework for the licensing of broadcasters in Zimbabwe.
“For example, Section 16(3) of the Act needs to be tightened to ensure that public enquiries for cancellation of licenses are mandatory. Clearly the transparency and accountability of Baz is necessary in such cases.”
She added that given the reality of the convergence of both the telecommunications and broadcasting sector, there is serious need to begin to have serious conversations about the implications of one company having such a footprint across the two sectors on media diversity.
Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) national coordinator, Vivienne Marara believes the development will widen available broadcast content, meaning that citizens have a variety of options to choose from.
“Suffice to say, just like DStv, not everyone will be able to access Kwese TV, save for those with the requisite financial means to do so.
“As a result of the aforementioned, we still maintain that there is need to license community radios so that both marginalised and poor communities are able to access information and participate in local development processes.
“Yes, changes in technology and Internet access have to an extent contributed positively to ensuring that citizens and business set up online audio and visual information platforms.
“However, you find that there are still a number of inhibiting factors limiting access to these online platforms such the cost factor of accessing internet and the level of internet reach in Zimbabwe. As a result, access still remains the preserve of a few.” Marara said whereas it is a cause for celebration that the High Court has suspended the termination letter issued by Baz, “it is, however, worrisome that we are increasingly seeing either citizens or business people resorting to Court processes for their issues to be positively considered.
“This should not be the case, especially at a time that government is talking about promoting both local and foreign investment in Zimbabwe.”
Zimbabwe Business and Arts Hub chairperson, Takemore Mazuruse said as a business, media and arts development player, they embrace any development that helps promote excellence and productivity in the three named sectors for the good of Zimbabwe and its populace.
“Beyond employment creation, we believe the coming in of a new player is health for the industry and will bring the much needed content which is critical for content creation.
“While we may not be abreast with issues regarding the court case, we welcome the development which we believe will create employment and contribute to the growth of the local arts industry.
“Responsible journalism we believe is good for nationhood and development and it is our hope that all players in this sector uphold the highest levels of professionalism,” said Mazuruse.
Veteran broadcaster John Masuku said the availability of Kwese TV is good for broadcasting diversity and wider choice.
“Their court application drew a lot of public sympathy and it is therefore expected that their services will be affordable to the general public.
“We hope Kwese will broadcast lots of Zimbabwean content as well. It is also gratifying that we can still turn to our courts for redress in cases of unfairness,” said Masuku.
Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono said the High Court ruling shows how backward our media regulators are with regards to the current and the future of broadcasting in this country.
“We have been led by regulators and a ministry which puts party political considerations ahead of national interest. They tried to stop Kwese, a company owned by a Zimbabwean which just shows how twisted their thinking is and yet they shout about indigenisation.
“All this was done to protect the moribund ZBC from competition and to control what we watch and hear. Very backward thinking! That’s why the broadcasting and film industries are dead; it is because of such regulatory madness.”
Actor Slyvanos Mudzvova said: “Well it is good news to a certain extent as we now have alternatives to ZBC. Zimbabwe needs to open the airwaves through which we can show more local content. We need alternative news about our current affairs. Kwese, however, falls short in that aspect as they won’t be broadcasting local news.”
Political commentator Vivid Gwede said: “Common sense already shows that Zimbabwe’s broadcasting space needed to be widened and diversified as it is lagging.
“This decision did not need litigation to materialise, but we have a very paranoid government. It is afraid of free circulation of information.
“To be sincere, this gate keeping and limiting of choices about what Zimbabweans should get and deserve by way of diverse information channels is outdated and embarrassing. In fact, information policing violates the constitutional rights to information that are so dear to us.”
Singer Dino Mudondo said he is happy that Kwese TV is broadcasting in the country as it will benefit local artistes.
“We now have hopes that our videos will be aired because we have plenty of them just gathering dust in some studios.”
Musician Victor Kunonga said: “As I’ve always said as an artiste, the more the media space, the better it is for all of us and it certainly did not need the High Court to decide that. If Kwese TV’s founder is a Zimbabwean, I do not understand why Zimbabwe should be the last place to host our own.”
Singer Jonah Moyo is disturbed that this had to involve the courts.
“It’s like we are living in a foreign country where we have to fight for our rights. Zimbabwe is in a world of its own, everything is about survival of the fittest. Will it ever end? Cry our once beloved country!”
Social commentator Lennox Mhlanga could only say: “Baz has been exposed for what it really is — a politically motivated gatekeeper whose mandate is to frustrate potential players that in their opinion aren’t politically correct.”
Playwright Leonard Matsa said it is unfortunate that in Zimbabwe everything, including coughing, should be analysed wearing political goggles.
“I will be surprised if the Zanu PF government concedes to this without a good fight. Letting go of broadcast monopoly to a local player means letting go of control to what people hear, and from who.
“For a government famous for serial nocturnal renditions of the truth, the Kwese TV saga might be far from being concluded, especially now as we move closer to the 2018 elections.”
Journalist Tawanda Mudzonga said just in the same way as when DStv revolutionised the way and what we watch on television in the early 90s, the introduction of Kwese TV heralds a new era of choice for viewers.
“For years ZBC limited our programming, and DStv lately was dictating how we can pay for their service. Kwese TV, I think has come at the right time. Like ZBC before them, DStv must realise that we now have an alternative.”Kwese TV licensing hailed