By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
20 January 2014
The government’s plan to scrap ZBC listener’s licence fees has been criticized as yet another arbitrary decision taken without considering the fundamental problems besetting the state broadcaster. Permanent secretary for information, George Charamba, told a ZiFM radio strategic workshop in Inyanga last Friday that the government will soon be scrapping the listener’s licence fees.
At the moment the Broadcasting Services of Zimbabwe (BAZ) penalizes the possession of a radio or television signal receiver without a valid licence, and ZBC is the sole beneficiary of this law.
Charamba admitted to the ‘absurdity’ of the current law saying it suggested that ‘everyone’, including owners of phones, has to pay a licence fee.
But the move to scrap licence fees is widely seen as a strategy to woo the public towards the ZBC as opposed to improving the quality of the state broadcaster’s service.
Radio Dialogue director Debra Mabunda said it was folly for the government to expect people to now flock towards the state media, because people did not boycott ZBC because of licences in the first place.
She said: ‘The picture is much broader than the issue of licences; the people have deeper grievances with the ZBC and it is only when they (ZBC) up their game that the people will begin to think about taking them seriously.’
Mabunda added that even if the quality of ZBC’s service was to improve it will still take a long time before the people start taking the state broadcaster seriously. ‘The ZBC lost the people’s confidence a long time ago and so that confidence cannot just be regained by scrapping licences’, said Mabunda.
In an interview with SW Radio Africa, Mabunda said while the scrapping of fees was good news for ordinary people the move raises questions as to the government’s real intention.
She likened the move to scrap the licenses to the arbitrary decision to cancel the debts owed by the residents to local authorities, as it comes at a time when the ZBC is struggling to pay its workers and finance its programmes.
BAZ has over the years come under criticism for forcing the public to pay for the licences even when the people rely on other broadcasters, thanks to satellite dishes. Only last year MDC legislator for Harare West, Jessie Majome, took BAZ to court over the issue of licences. She argued that it was her right to boycott the licence fee because ZBC was biased against her party.