New Zimbabwe (London)

18 January 2014

Zimbabwe: ZBC Licence Fee to Be Scraped - Charamba

Photo: Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation
Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation logo.

THE government is set to scrap the contentious ZBC listeners' licence fee, a top official has revealed.

The fee has, over the years come under repeated criticism, with challengers arguing that possession or ownership of a television signal receiver does not necessarily mean they intend to access ZBC's broadcast material.

In October last year, Jessie Majome, the MDC-T legislator for Harare West, refused to pay the licence saying she did not watch or listen to ZBC programmes.

The public broadcaster is widely reviled for poor quality programmes and alleged Zanu PF bias with many people opting for free-to-air channels or subscribing to the South Africa-based MultiChoice service.

Majome also filed a Constitutional Court application to force ZBC to encrypt its signal so that they are only accessed by those who wish to do so.

However, George Charamba, permanent secretary for the information ministry, revealed the fee would be scrapped at ZiFM strategic workshop in Nyanga last Thursday.

"We are getting to a time when the listeners' fee has to be scrapped," he said.

"The Broadcasting Services Act requires that all stations make a provision for Government Airtime (GAT), uphold the 75 percent local content concept, promotion of national languages and dialects yet only the so-called public broadcaster then gets to benefit out of it.

"After all, the absurdity of the legal instrument is exposed by the fact that mere possession of a receiver attracts a licence fee and with all the communication gadgets around us, it means almost everyone has to pay a licence fee even when one owns a phone.

"We have made a decision as a ministry and, get it from me, it will soon be a thing of the past."

Despite being the sole beneficiary of the licence fee, the ZBC was recently revealed to be actually insolvent with workers going for up to six months without pay.

The broadcaster's chief executive was sent home on forced leave in November last year while the entire board of directors was sacked after they failed to come up with a turnaround programme.

Meanwhile Charamba expressed concern over the precarious financial situation of most media houses in the country.

"If our goal in 2000 was to destroy all dissenting media houses, as some would want to perceive things, then we are now presented with the chance to destroy them without firing a single shot," he said.

"We had a chance to visit media houses recently and the situation is gloomy. AMH is not a happy story. Go to ANZ, it is not a happy story either. The only institution that is close to keeping its head above the waters is Zimpapers.

"We are facing a real catastrophe in the industry. We have replayed the political story forgetting that we have a responsibility to create business ideas to survive in such an environment."

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