THIS past week George Charamba, Presidential spokesman and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information, said something very interesting on ZIFM radio while responding to former Higher & Tertiary Education Minister, Jonathan Moyo’s Hardtalk interview with BBC. He said soon he will be looking at licensing new television stations in the country and in the process ending the ZBCtv monopoly. The move is long overdue.
For many aspiring television workers Cde Charamba’s words were music to the ear. For artistes and other content creators it was definitely the sweetest news so far in 2018. Surely an end to ZBCtv’s monopoly means endless possibilities for both the creative sector and consumers of television content.
There is so much wrong about ZBCtv. So many things one can write a book. But having worked there for years I know what is wrong is not the employees. Most of the creatives working for the parastatal mean well. They all want to excel. Many of them have great ideas that could change television. However, it is the SYSTEM that is failing them. ZBCtv inherited a colonial system that first and foremost didn’t care what the consumer thought about its content and programming. An arrogant system that looks you in the eye and say “take it or leave it.” And it is not surprising that most consumers took the second choice and migrated somewhere else.
The inherited system believes more in propping up the status quo than communicating and entertaining. It listens more to politicians than it does to consumers. After all, the money that keeps it alive is largely from Government or the very system it seeks to prop up. It is a system that does not believe in consumer power. (If it listened to people it would know that besides news, any other political programme does not belong to prime time) But unfortunately things have changed. New technology has come in and disrupted the system and everything else. Now it’s a matter of adapt or die.
Without consumers the public broadcaster will surely wilt and die. (If that hasn’t happened already.) That is why Charamba is talking about change and an end to monopoly. To be honest that monopoly ended a long time ago with pirate satellite dishes and the advent of DStv into the country.
The good news about new television players coming in is that with them comes competition. Healthy competition we pray. The more television stations we have in Zimbabwe means more jobs created. It also means more opportunities for creatives to tell local stories that will resonate with our people.
The more Zimbabwean stories we see on our screens the more our people see themselves and the more they will subscribe — and keeping money in the country should be a priority. It is a public secret that a lot of money, in foreign currency, is going out as part of DStv subscriptions. But if you look at how much money DStv is ploughing back you will obviously shed a tear or two. Frankly speaking, DStv is not investing as much into the local film industry as it is taking out via subscriptions. So more television stations might see a lot of that money staying in this country. More television stations will also see a serious growth in the film and television sector in the country.
For ZBCtv the coming in of other players might mean they have to change the way they do business. Not business as usual. It will mean they have to change their approach to programming and investing more on local and appealing content. This might see them engaging more with independent content producers. So Charamba saying soon he will be “dealing with TV licences” in a move to dismantle ZBCtv’s monopoly was sweet music to many creatives’ ears. May we all live to see the day local businesspeople get granted licences to operate television stations in Zimbabwe. The dismantling of the monopoly is long overdue!