Robert Mugabe’s regime Versus Econet – Round Two

Masiyiwa Strive

The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) has declared the Econet Group’s pay television service, Kwese TV, illegal and warned the company against providing services without licence.

The development could set the stage for another bruising legal battle between Econet and President Robert Mugabe’s government, which lost a highly publicised licensing dispute with the telecoms, media and technology group’s founder, Strive Masiyiwa, in court in 1998.

This week, Econet Media announced the introduction of Kwese TV in Zimbabwe, to compete with the country’s sole, state-owned television station as well as Naspers’ Multichoice. Indications were that Kwese TV would rise on a third party licence held by Dr Dish.

However, in a statement issued late last night, BAZ chief executive officer Obert Muganyura said Dr Dish’s licence had long been revoked after the company failed to launch as service.

“The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe wishes to advise the public that the Authority has not issued any licence for the provision of Kwese TV in Zimbabwe. In terms of the Broadcasting Services Act, no person shall provide a broadcasting service in Zimbabwe other than in accordance with a licence issued by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe,” Muganyura said.

“The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe therefore wishes to advise the public not to invest in a service that cannot be provided without a licence and warns anyone who may contemplate providing an unlicensed broadcasting service to acquaint themselves with the course of action that the authority is bound to take in terms of the law.”

Muganyura said Dr Dish had been issued with a content distribution licence specific to the provision of the My TV Africa service, which BAZ had subsequently cancelled.

The Mugabe government, which has a stranglehold on the country’s broadcasting sector, would be particularly wary of new entrants into the industry, months ahead of the 2018 elections.

Although some Zimbabweans have access to Multichoice programming, many cannot afford the service. Kwese TV’s entrance could significantly reduce the cost of accessing media alternatives.

Media surveys suggest that the majority of Zimbabweans still rely on the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) radio and television channels for news and information.

The State broadcaster’s monopoly was broken by a 2000 Supreme Court ruling which found it to be unconstitutional, but the government continues to exert near-total control over broadcasting through a prohibitive licencing regime.

The State has, in recent years, issued radio licences to entities connected to the ruling party and government in a bid to provide a veneer of plurality.

Zimbabwe, with its one national television station, lags behind the rest of the continent in broadcasting plurality, despite being the second African country ― after Nigeria ― to see the introduction of a television service in 1960. Television was only introduced in South Africa in 1976, nearly two decades years after Zimbabwe.

Masiyiwa, whose Econet Group had to overcome its tough birth in his native Zimbabwe before flourishing as a global, billion-dollar company, announced the launch of Kwese TV in December 2015. Ironically, the company has made inroads into the rest of Africa, but continues to struggle to find a foothold in Zimbabwe.

Last year, Kwese TV secured the rights to screen the English Premier Soccer League for three seasons. It also signed a multi-year content deal with the United States’ National Basketball Association in April 2016 to become the NBA’s sub-Saharan Africa official broadcaster.

Officials from Econet Media Limited, part of the Econet Group, which operates Kwese TV, were not immediately available to comment last night. – FinGaz