Liberate the airwaves, let the people speak

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Candid Comment..Brezh MAlaba

From October 14 to 18, the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on Information, Media and Broadcasting Services will hold public consultations on the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill.

It sounds unbelievable when you think of it today, but in 1960 Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nigeria were the only countries in sub-Saharan Africa to provide television broadcasting services.

In 2019—59 years later—Zimbabwe is still stuck with only one TV station while Nigeria has more than 100. There are in excess of 600 TV stations across the continent.

Why has broadcasting remained rudimentary and makeshift in Zimbabwe, yet other countries have registered tremendous growth and innovation in that sector?

TV is one of the greatest inventions in the history of technology. It is rapidly evolving; for instance, pay-TV revenue is projected to exceed US$7 billion by 2021. Nigeria, riding on this powerful medium, now has the capacity to launch more 50 new films every week, cementing its place as the world’s second most prolific motion-picture industry after India’s Bollywood.

As a former member of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) board, I can confirm that the scourge of political interference has made it virtually impossible to transform the entity from a Zanu PF-controlled propaganda outfit to a true public broadcaster guided by the national interest.

The political meddling has spawned a culture of corruption, incompetence, mediocrity and cronyism—rendering the national broadcaster dysfunctional, inefficient and broke.
When I say the ZBC was captured and subverted by a post-colonial predatory elite, I am not expressing a malicious opinion. It is now a matter of judicial record—via a ground-breaking judgement by High Court judge Justice Joseph Mafusire on June 19 this year—that the ZBC is politically biased, partisan and impartial. This is in flagrant violation of section 61 of the constitution which stipulates free expression and media freedom.

“Partisan broadcasts and skewed reporting lead to polarity and threaten national peace,” noted Mafusire.

Any level-headed Zimbabwean will tell you that the government must take seriously the growing clamour for democratic media law reform. In open and civilised societies, free expression, media freedom and diversity of views are vital barometers for gauging the health of democracy and the dynamism of the governance ethos.

A wide range of voices in public affairs enhances the generation of fresh ideas and the entrenchment of accountable governance, without which a society is reduced to a pointless gathering of uninformed, ill-equipped and hopelessly vulnerable individuals.

George Orwell reminds us that “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. This also explains why the Zimbabwean political elites are opposed to media pluralism and diversity, because a truly reformed media sector would no doubt empower the citizenry with critical-thinking tools.

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