ZBC turnaround a mountain to climb

via ZBC turnaround a mountain to climb by Paidamoyo Muzulu November 22, 2013 Zimbabwe Independent

INFORMATION minister Jonathan Moyo last week cracked the whip at the troubled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) dissolving the entire board and suspending CEO Happison Muchechetere and his secretary Rita Mangudhla, finance director Elliot Kasu and head of finance Ralph Nyambudzi to “enable a full due diligence and organisational audit” in bid to turn around the struggling state broadcaster which is technically insolvent.

While Moyo’s move to revive the public broadcaster has been lauded by ZBC workers and other stakeholders, questions are being raised whether he will be able to turn around the broadcaster bedevilled by a mountain of problems.

Some of the problems facing ZBC are commercial, structural and political. ZBC, as an entity established by law, is wholly-owned or controlled by the state, which means it is constitutionally and legally a state broadcaster although in practice it has been reduced to a Zanu PF publicity tool like its predecessor, Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation, which was a Rhodesian Front propaganda mouthpiece.

Analysts say Moyo should thus depoliticise ZBC and allow it to serve both the national and public interest, rather than party political and other narrow partisan interests.

According to the African Charter on Broadcasting, all state and government controlled broadcasters should be transformed into public service broadcasters — which is what ZBC must become — accountable to all strata of the people as represented by an independent board. It says they must serve the overall public interest, avoiding one-sided reporting and programming in regard to religion, politics, culture, race and gender, among other things.

Besides this, analysts say Moyo must also ensure ZBC becomes commercially viable in the face of growing competition in the market, especially in the looming digitisation environment where new television and radio stations will emerge.

The other challenge for Moyo would be the appointment of senior management and board members affiliated.

In the past, the culture has simply been swinging open the political and patronage doors for Zanu PF cronies and supporters, some of whom had little or no knowledge about the media and broadcasting to be specific, a criteria which inevitably led to the mismanagement and running down of ZBC.

There are also issues to do with staff complement and labour practices which Moyo must tackle.

ZBC employs more than 700 workers, which analysts say is bloated and unsustainable as shown by failure to pay salaries.

ZBC is also beset by bad labour practices, something which has led to recent worker unrest.

The broadcaster’s employees have been complaining that there is nepotism and cronyism associated with employment of relatives, friends and associates in strategic positions although they may not even be qualified in their areas of responsibility.

For instance, there have been reports that ZBC senior managers were earning between US$10 000 and US$20 000 when ordinary employees were getting below US$1 000. As a result, ZBC’s top 46 managers were reportedly gobbling close to US$800 000 a month in remuneration, while most employees had gone for months without salaries.

Media analyst Jonathan Gandari says transformation at ZBC into a truly professional public broadcaster needs more than a change of personalities.

“Unfortunately, it’s not about changing characters in the drama,” Gandari said. “It’s about changing the script. What Moyo is doing so far is nowhere near a game-changer. It is firefighting because of the crisis of corruption and unbridled greed by the system as exhibited by managers at ZBC.”

South Africa’s Rhodes University media scholar Admire Mare said Moyo’s action was so far inadequate as he only targeted a few individuals and not a whole gamut of issues at ZBC.

“While his move is welcome given the fact that the crisis at the public broadcaster was threatening the livelihoods of its workers as well as embarrassing the nation with poor and partisan programming, the late broadcasting of the main news bulletin being a classic example, the suspension spared over 20 managers who are paid for doing absolutely nothing,” Mare said.

“What is needed is to transform ZBC from a ‘state broadcaster’ to ‘public service broadcaster’ where public service content takes precedence over propaganda and ‘patriotic’ broadcasting content.”

Mare said it was too early to conclude Moyo’s suspension of the board and CEO would usher seismic changes. He added ZBC needed an urgent turnaround strategy with “measurable and realistic deliverables”. It also has to start implementing the long suggested recommendations by former CEO Allum Mpofu, he said.

Mare said ZBC cannot attract enough advertising with its current partisan programming and content production, and thus will remain dependent on government subsidies which breed patron-client relations between management and politicians.

South African-based analyst Khanyile Joseph Mlotshwa said: “Moyo has always been a hard worker. Whether right or wrong, he is an action-oriented person and says what he means and means what he says. I think he is committed to turning around the fortunes of ZBC.”

Mare pointed out: “ZBC needs partial commercialisation of TV2 (a channel exclusive to a 40km Harare radius) to finance local content production. The thrust should be to move from the public service broadcaster towards newer models like public communication broadcasting.”

Given the shambles at ZBC, Moyo certainly has a mountain to climb if he were to turnaround the state broadcaster into a genuine and commercially viable public service or public communication entity.