No profit as long as ZBH remains Zanu PF pet project

“I TOOK over the chairmanship of (ZBC) when wolves were at the door as the corporation was living from hand to mouth while the image of the corporation in the eyes of the stakeholders

was negative…When I left, we had a very clear vision that would have made ZBC the pride of the nation.”

Gideon Gono in September last year gave this spirited defence of his role in the unbundling of the former Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) into nine business units. Gono, who is central bank governor, was at the time of the unbundling, chairman of ZBC.

Under his stewardship, ZBC was then diced into companies which included Newsnet, Zimbabwe Television, Sportsnet, Kidznet, Power FM, SFM, National FM and Radio Zimbabwe.

In most of the entities, the vision to create world-class institutions failed to go beyond just naming them. The entities were perennially broke to the extent of failing to pay wages.

While Gono was confident the scheme would work, we pointed out at the time that it was bound to be a monumental failure as long as the holding company and its subsidiaries continued to be Zanu PF pet projects ran on partisan and not commercial lines. The project was doomed from the start and the results of that still-birth were revealed this week when Information minister Tichaona Jokonya decided to “restructure” the entities into two companies: Zimbabwe Radio Services and Zimbabwe Television Services under Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH).

As in the last restructuring exercise, the results are expected to be devastating for media workers, dozens of whom will be shunted aside in this inflationary environment when terminal benefits become worthless almost overnight.

Whatever government is trying to achieve now at the state broadcaster, the results are predictable. It is bound to fail as long as it maintains a stranglehold on the electronic media. The knee-jerk reaction by the ministry then under Jonathan Moyo to enact laws guaranteeing the state hegemony in the electronic media and the formation of a myriad of successor companies had nothing to do with creating a more efficient electronic media in the country — as Gono then wanted us to believe. It was a project designed to entrench Zanu PF’s ideals. Advertisers seeing no value in associating with partisan programming turned to other media.

The plan this time around could see a leaner broadcasting edifice for the same purpose: to churn out propaganda on behalf of the state. Jokonya would surely be happy to see the broadcaster taking this position judging by his recent statements on the need to protect the name and person of the president and to shield the country from attacks by “traitors” and “unpatriotic media”. That means the state is not prepared at the moment to give up control of the media.

But Jokonya knows what needs to be done. At the AU communications ministers’ conference he attended in Addis Ababa last week, to discuss among other issues the setting up of continental radio stations, the issue of private sector involvement came up and was taken on board.

Is it not ironic then that Jokonya announced to the nation this week that “governments must pay for the project but we would also like the private sector to be involved in the project”, while he is putting in measures to ensure the state tightens its stranglehold on the media?

He should not expect private companies to readily jump on board this project when they are being shut out from participating in the broadcast media in their respective countries.

The government is going back on its promise to ensure there is private investment in state enterprises by first unbundling the parastatals to create the opportunities for new capital. We are now seeing that this was never our government’s intention.

The whole exercise of unbundling of state enterprises was ill-thought-out because there were no support structures to make the successor companies viable, there was no capital injection, and, more seriously, there was no plan. The government’s reversal of the unbundling of Zesa last month is another illustration of this maladroit effort.

Jokonya in announcing the “rebundling” of ZBH this week berated Moyo for creating nine companies without putting any money into them. We wait to see how Jokonya will make the state broadcaster a profitable entity and a propaganda tool at the same time.

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