20 June 2012

Zimbabwe: Temporary Relief for Locals Facing SABC Blackout

Millions of Zimbabweans, reliant on access to free-to-air TV channels like SABC 1, 2 and 3, will temporarily continue receiving the channels after signal carrier Sentech challenged the court ruling that ordered them to stop the 'piracy.'

For several years now viewers in countries like Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi have used a range of decoders like Wiztech, Philibao, Fortec Star and Vivid, to illegally view television channels, beamed from South Africa, without subscription.

But last year eBotswana, a subsidiary of South Africa's eTV, took the matter to court demanding that Sentech encrypt its signal to prevent this cross border signal piracy. In February this year the court ordered Sentech to "take all reasonable steps necessary" to encrypt its signal within three months.

The deadline set by the court meant that viewers in the SADC region would have been cut off after May 31st. Sentech have however appealed the ruling, giving relief to many Zimbabweans who were facing the prospect of getting their news from the stale and propaganda driven Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

A recent report on Radio Netherlands covered the popularity of satellite dishes in Zimbabwe. It said even people living in squatter camps are investing in satellite dishes to avoid the ZBC. It's estimated that at least 60 percent of TV owners have abandoned the ZANU PF controlled channels.

In February a Zimbabwe All Media Products and Services Survey (ZAMPS) revealed that viewership of ZBC TV channels had slumped significantly. For example only 24 percent of the population now watches ZBC TV, down from 38 percent in 2008. And listenership of its radio channels also slumped to a new low.

A coalition government formed in February 2009 to stem the tide of brutal ZANU PF violence has also failed to deliver promised media reforms. Instead the ZANU PF information minister has blocked all attempts to free the media and kept party loyalists in charge of the state run print, radio and television media.

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