EDITORIAL COMMENT: Government offside on ZBC

Source: EDITORIAL COMMENT: Government offside on ZBC | The Financial Gazette September 15, 2016

GOVERNMENT recently exerted pressure on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) to revoke a deal with Kwese Free Sports through which the public broadcaster had secured rights to beam English Premier League games live on Ztv.
Through Kwese — a free-to-air channel owned by Econet Wireless — the company was also supposed to have facilitated the broadcast by ZBC of the recent Rio Olympic Games held in Brazil.
History was in the making in Rio de Janeiro. For the first time ever, Zimbabwe’s women football team had qualified for the games. Kirsty Coventry, the country’s most decorated swimmer, was also making her fifth and final appearance at the Olympics, having represented Zimbabwe since 2000.
It was treasonous or worse for any public broadcaster from countries that had participating teams at the Olympics not to broadcast the games live to their expectant viewers. ZBC had therefore seized the opportunity to bring the games to its viewers, but all that came to naught after politicians muddled the waters.
By cancelling the deal, ZBC missed a lucrative opportunity to earn 75 percent of the advertising income.
In trying to justify the cancellation of the Kwese/ZBC deal, George Charamba, the secretary in the Ministry of Information, argued that the transaction promoted competition and yet ZBC did not have the money to acquire the Olympic rights in the first place.
ZBC is currently working on a digitalisation programme, which will avail a dozen of channels to the public of which six of them will be utilised by the parastatal itself,  while the balance would be offered to whoever can acquire a licence. Would that be interpreted as promoting rivals? No. That is how television works.
ZBC and all national broadcasters the world over are distributed free by DStv, which also carries e-tv, the three SABC channels and a swathe of provincial broadcasters. It’s business. And that is how it is done the world over.
Would DStv have had an input in government’s decision to blackout the Kwese sponsored Olympic Games? After all they stood to gain as the only broadcaster in Zimbabwe who carried the Olympic games signal? In whose interest was government acting? Certainly not the ordinary person, who therefore missed out on what the moneyed enjoyed on DStv.
This smacked of protectionism and cheap politicking.  In this age of technology, whether we like it or not Netflix and many other broadcasters housed in faraway places like the United States are already broadcasting into Zimbabwe and everywhere else by satellite. Our smart phones, millions of them carried by the young and old in Zimbabwe today, have applications that enables users to access hundreds of television stations from around the globe for free!
In the past, ZBC has missed several opportunities to beam major international events live on television screens because it has no money to pay for the broadcasting rights. Each time that happens, its viewers have always felt cheated.
Those who can afford have subscribed to DStv and other pay-per-view channels, hence deserting ZBC and compounding its financial hemorrhage.
As long as ZBC continues to be run along political lines, its chances of navigating the harsh business terrain are zero.