IN what appears to be a political move to thwart the business growth of the Zimbabwe Independent and Standard newspapers, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) has for the past six months kept
under lock and key a satellite dish and accessories belonging to the group at its container depot in Beitbridge.
Zimra is demanding that the equipment must first be licensed before it is released. The equipment does not require licensing since it is used to receive news, not to transmit it.
The move came after suspicion by government that the papers wanted to use the satellite dish – provided by Reuters for newsgathering purposes – to broadcast footage of the March parliamentary election to the international community.
The saga took a new twist this month following evidence of the involvement of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) in the continued seizure of the equipment. A letter dated September 24 written by Zimra regional controller, Eric Maguranyanga, to the manager of Big Star Cargo Services, tasked with clearing the equipment, reveals the involvement.
The letter states that Zimind publishers should get a licence from the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) before the release of the equipment.
“You are therefore required to make an application for a registration licence from Potraz for the issuance of the licence. A copy of your application should be sent to the President’s Office, PO Box 2373, Harare.”
Under Zimbabwe’s legislation no law requires a licence to import a “receive only” dish. The satellite dish can only receive stories and pictures but has no capacity to transmit. Potraz is mandated to regulate and license the telecommunications sector and therefore does not ordinarily have jurisdiction over broadcasting licence issues.
The involvement of the President’s Office, which houses the CIO, raises questions as to who is pulling the Zimra levers.
Initially Zimra had told the newspaper group to apply for a licence with Tel*One. It then told the group to apply for another licence from the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ). The company proceeded to apply for a letter of exemption with respect to its confiscated equipment on August 17.
BAZ granted leave for the receiver to be released but to no avail.
According to the group chief executive, Raphael Khumalo, correspondence was sent to Potraz in March seeking assistance to have the seized “receive only” antennae and ancillary equipment released.
Potraz responded by asking for the release of the dish in a letter to Zimra dated April 6, to enable them to carry out examination of the equipment before issuing Zimind Publishers the relevant licence. Their request fell on deaf ears as Zimra continued to hold the equipment.
Earlier this month Zimra appeared ready to release the equipment. Big Star cargo services confirmed that the satellite equipment was ready for delivery, but Zimra made a U-turn at the eleventh hour by keeping the dish in its custody following orders from one Chihuri, who is based at Zimra’s Intermarket Towers. Chihuri reportedly instructed Zimra’s Mr Maguranyanga not to let go of the satellite receiver. Efforts to get comment from Chihuri yesterday proved fruitless as he was said to be out of town on business.
Khumalo said that the continued holding of the equipment had prejudiced the operations of the Independent and the Standard as the two papers were unable to provide their readers and advertisers with good quality international news and pictures.
Reuters manager in charge of media accounts in Africa, Jocelyne Muhutu-Remy, yesterday confirmed from South Africa that newspaper organistions in Zimbabwe including the Financial Gazette and Zimbabwe Newspapers Group had the satellite receiver equipment including 26 other institutions.
“Modus publications and Zimbabwe Newspapers have the dish,” said Muhutu-Remy.