Electronic media blackout looms

Itai Mushekwe



ZIMBABWE faces the risk of a television and radio signal blackout if a preemptive measure to replace obsolete transmission equipment is not devised as a m

atter of urgency, independentxtra has been alerted.


The revelation was made this week by Transmedia Corporation chief executive officer, Alfred Mandere, whose organisation last week made a monetary appeal of US$64 million to government for the purchase of new transmission equipment from China, South Africa and Europe, as part of its National Transmission Grand Plan aimed at improving countrywide transmission coverage to about 90%.


In an interview on Tuesday, Mandere said the antiquated equipment has been in place for the past 40 years and it only makes sense for government to move in swiftly to remedy the situation.


“It’s important that we get the funds for the new transmission equipment quickly as we’re also contemplating expanding our network so that we can have more players in the television and radio industry.”


Transmedia has plans to set up 59 community radio stations expected to go on air next year, a rather ambitious plan given government’s reluctance to free the airwaves for fear of critical content.


Mandere told the Zimbabwe Independent that the Ministry of Finance had pledged to disburse the much-needed foreign currency for the revitalisation of the transmission system although he was not privy to the amount they are set to receive, adding that given the magnitude of the exercise the funds were likely to be received in tranches.


Transmedia is the national signal carrier offering services such as broadband for Internet, thus making it the biggest platform for the information super highway. The company also offers live satellite transmission services.


Due to lack of transmission sites and depleted stations, only 30% of the country receives radio and television coverage, while the other 70% depends mostly on foreign stations.


The US$64 million will be used to purchase new antenna systems and for the refurbishment of obsolete machinery. Mandere said the television and radio blackouts are a result of government’s delay in shifting from analogue to digital transmitters.


“The equipment is now old and definitely a transmission blackout for both television and radio is inevitable, it’s more like an old car that now needs to be replaced.”


Zimbabwe has only one television station that has been broadcasting government’s propaganda since its transformation at Independence from the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation to the then Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation now Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings.


On the other hand, radio has also not been spared the state’s ideological hegemony. The four stations that are operating — Spot FM, Power FM, Radio Zimbabwe and National FM — are far away from being apolitical and have been used as vehicles to peddle government’s propaganda.


Independent television and radio stations never lasted on air following the enactment of the exclusionist Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) that requires independent local players in the broadcasting sector to pay hefty licence fees in foreign currency.


Mandere added that government should take seriously the looming television and radio blackout, as the electronic media is the most powerful media as it measures the pulse of the nation, while informing, educating and entertaining the masses.


“Government must do something fast because eventually the blackout will dawn. There is need for national investment in the radio and television sector. Like any other nation, the two are used to measure the national pulse. People often deceive themselves by thinking that television and radios are used for political sloganeering alone. There are much more important functions than that. For instance, they act as a surveillance (machinery) of the environment and many people especially in rural areas in the case of radio, rely on this essential service.”