Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity, George Charamba, revealed this when he appeared before the Media, Information and Communication Technology parliamentary portfolio committee yesterday.
Charamba, who also doubles up as President Robert Mugabe’s spokesperson, said: “The current levels of investment in broadcasting infrastructure in the country create no room for new entries as espoused by the GPA. One can make as much noise but until and unless there is the technical wherewithal then we are building pie in the sky.”
However, this contradicts what his boss, Media minister Webster Shamu said last month when he publicly declared that the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) should urgently expedite the issuance of licences to private broadcasters and create a platform for community radio stations to go on air.
“Universal access to broadcasting services has remained on the government’s wish list for the past two decades, but regrettably little progress has been made in that direction,” Shamu said at a BAZ strategic planning workshop.
According to the GPA signed in September 2008, the three ruling parties had agreed that government should ensure the immediate processing of all applications for re-registration and registration in terms of both the Broadcasting Services Act as well as the Access to Information and protection of Privacy Act. It called on Zimbabweans to make applications for broadcasting licences.
Charamba said issuance of new licences would be done only after considering community broadcasting stations.
“Liberation of the airwaves should take into consideration the interests of commercial and community broadcasting,” Charamba said. “In liberalising airwaves, policing functions should be put in place first also before issuing any licences. This should be done so that the state can control intrusion by unlicensed players.”
The ministry admitted that a number of legislatives changes were needed regarding the national broadcasters policy on airing political advertisements. However, he said they would rather have the status quo remain.
“Our laws still need to be developed in regard to political advertising. Presently the law only regulates advertising in the election period and this is a well-defined period that is from the declaration of the election date to the polling day. The regulation is done by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). The law is unclear of what ZBC should do outside elections and the ministry’s position is clear we let sleeping dogs lie,” Charamba said.
The committee was told that ZBC two weeks ago signed a re-brokered Iranian deal to fund the broadcaster’s digitalisation programme after the first was cancelled when ZBC defaulted on payments.
Iran had extended a loan jointly to Arda and ZBC for their recapitalisation projects. However, the deteriorating economic conditions then forced the state to default on the loan.
The Iranian deal was set to improve the quality of broadcasting services as the country moves towards another round of elections next year.
“The new Iranian deal gives us the opportunity to develop broadcasting services. The loan also removes the burden on the fiscus to fund the programme. In the new deal, ZBC will refurbish its studios at Pockets Hill, Montrose, Radio Zimbabwe and Gweru in addition to outside broadcasting equipment especially when we are going towards elections. That whole programme will make sure the country gets ready for the digital changeover set for 2013,” Charamba said.
Meanwhile, the police on Monday visited the Zimbabwe Independent offices and interviewed the editor, Constantine Chimakure, over a story published by the newspaper in August that quoted extensively a letter written by Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri to co-Home Affairs ministers Theresa Makone and Kembo Mohadi opposing government’s planned electoral reforms.
Detective Inspector Henry Dowa told Chimakure that the police wanted to know who had given the Independent the letter and that they wanted to interview the author of the article, former news editor Farai Mutsaka.
Contrary to media reports, no summons were served on Chimakure and Mutsaka to appear in court.