INFORMATION minister Jonathan Moyo intends to widen the state propaganda base by transferring two ZBC radio stations to his troubled New Ziana project, the Zimbabwe Indepen
dent has been told.
The move is part of a restructuring exercise which seeks to extricate the state broadcaster from debt by streamlining operations.
The dismal failure of the much-touted restructuring exercise, dubbed Vision 30 in November 2001, has driven the ZBC into further debt, leaving management and the board without any option but to try another re-organisation which could result in more retrenchments and staff transfers.
ZBC chief executive officer Munyaradzi Hwengwere confirmed yesterday that the corporation would soon implement a restructuring exercise, but claimed “not a single worker will be retrenched”.
Last September the ZBC retrenched 435 workers under its Vision 30 restructuring exercise. The workers claim they have not received their terminal benefits.
Hwengwere refused to give details on the transfer of stations to New Ziana.
The New Ziana project was launched last year to replace the poorly-funded news agency, Ziana. Under the project, community radio stations as well as newspapers would be established to improve the dissemination of information to grassroots communities.
However, a general lack of funding has so far delayed the launch of the project.
Happison Muchechetere, head of the electronic division at New Ziana, said he was not aware of the transfer of the stations.
“I am not yet aware of that,” he said. “That is news to me, but I would appreciate it. We will have radio and television services. We have already invited tenders for the provision of equipment to be used by the stations.”
As part of the streamlining of operations sources at Pockets Hill this week said two out of the four radio stations under ZBC would be transferred to New Ziana. The other two would become autonomous entities, which Hwengwere said would be registered as separate companies but continue to operate under the state-run broadcaster.
The four stations under ZBC have failed to operate as commercial entities as advertisers have fled from the airwaves in droves.
Sources at ZBC this week said the decision to restructure followed a series of meetings held by the board and management over the past weeks
Morale is reportedly at its lowest ebb at ZBC, with suspensions and dismissals now frequent. The restructuring, sources said, was aimed at reducing the workforce and generating income through the various stations and services offered by the corporation.
The sources added that ZTV would also become an independent company, as well as the corporation’s Production Services.
“We have always been telling the world that we are implementing a continuous restructuring exercise,” Hwengwere said. “In other words, we are still implementing Vision 30. This time we want to establish the commercial viability of the corporation. Our plans are to create six companies from the radio and television stations, which will be legally registered and stand alone as independent entities,” he said.
Hwengwere refused to comment on the transfer of two radio stations to New Ziana. “We can’t engage in such talks now,” he said. “Aren’t we talking about ZBC? How does New Ziana come in?”
Insiders said the restructuring process would affect at least 150 of the 500 workers currently employed by the corporation.
“They want to reduce the workforce, but at the same time they are trying to avoid paying retrenchment packages. We wonder how they are going to achieve that,” said a senior ZBC employee.
The state-run corporation has been in difficulty since Moyo embarked on a campaign to use the broadcaster as a propaganda machine for the government and ruling Zanu PF party. After the launch of Vision 30, massive recruitment and appointments were made to boost its partisan agenda ahead of last year’s presidential election.
This raised the workforce to about 900 and pushed the salary bill to an unsustainable $7 billion which led to the accumulation of huge debts. Last August, ZBC owed debts to various companies of up to $655 million.
At the same time, advertisers shunned ZBC en masse, and that, coupled with Moyo’s ill-advised move to order the abandonment of sponsored programmes, effectively destroyed the corporation’s income-generating potential.
Hwengwere yesterday confirmed the broadcaster’s financial crisis.
“We inherited a historical debt which will not be dealt with overnight. I think since the launch of Vision 30 a lot has happened which has seen an increase in the commercial value (of ZBC).”