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Monday, January 20, 2014

Srapping of Radio Licence fees

The decision by government to scrap Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) listeners’ licence fees was long overdue.

NewsDay Editorial

Many Zimbabweans have been reluctant to pay the fees not only due to the economic hardships prevailing in the country, but also because of poor programming.
The Broadcasting Services Act, which penalises the possession of a radio or television signal receiver without a valid licence, has over the years come under severe criticism as people argued that the mere possession or ownership of a television signal receiver does not necessarily mean it is intended for purposes of accessing ZBC’s broadcast material.
Many viewers and listeners simply cannot afford the amount charged and have migrated to other more exciting radio stations and satellite television where programming is professional and market-driven unlike the ZBC one which is driven by political considerations.
Soon government will license more than 20 other private radio stations in addition to the two — StarFM and ZiFM—licensed recently. These will compete directly with ZBC.
Advertising trends show that ZBC is already losing the revenue war with these two free-to-air channels. The competition is going to be stiffer when dozen other stations are commissioned. And ZBC may soon become redundant.
It is this that might have informed government’s decision to scrap the licence fees.
In the information age, people cannot continue to be forced to access information in a particular manner from a particular source. ZBC has not moved with the times, hence its formerly captive listenership and viewership has moved away and now access a myriad other sources of information and entertainment.
It is hoped that with the scrapping of the contentious piece of legislation, ZBC will also be forced to modernise its programming.
The two private radio stations launched so far have demonstrated that free-to-air transmission can be viable. ZBC therefore, has nothing to fear in joining this new trend.
Zimbabweans are willing to pay fair value for their money. This is shown by the number of satellite dishes mounted on their homes. Every month, millions of dollars are externalised by viewers paying for direct satellite television services. ZTV can also tap into this market by being responsive to viewers’ needs.
In some parts of the country there is no ZBC transmission forcing people to access foreign radio and television stations.
This is absurd in a country that prides itself on the sanctity of its sovereignty.
ZBC should transform itself into a public broadcaster in its true sense; it should serve public interest rather than the political interest of the ruling party.
ZBC has a crucial role to play particularly in the education and culture fields. It should be the repository of our national languages and culture. Government should therefore continue to sponsor it.

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