By Robert Tapfumaneyi in Harare & UK Bureau
FORMER ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira’s media empire has been forced to implement tough survival measures as the country’s tanking economy takes its toll on industry and commerce.
Mandiwanzira was not returned to cabinet after President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s victory in the disputed July 30 elections.
He would later be arrested for criminal abuse of office and is currently out of custody on $2,000 bail. He denies the charges.
And if the former ICT minister was left sneezing by the cabinet snub, then his media business has certainly caught the consequent cold.
Staff at his AB Communications group claimed Thursday that salaries had been cut by 50 per cent, with the working month reduced to 11 days.
“We had to respond to the worsening economic situation,” a highly-placed insider told NewZimbabwe.com.
“We could have retrenched, but we chose an option which, at least, keeps people at work. This is a temporary three-month arrangement.
“We are hoping that, in that time, the economy improves.”
He added; “You have to understand that in the current inclement economic environment, the advertising is one of the activities companies cut-back on in order to survive.
Banks are not going to advertise when they don’t have money to give anyone; just as an oil expressing company will not advertise when it’s not producing any cooking oil.”
The official said staff were understanding of the situation and most had “offered to continue coming to work for the full month, even if they will only be paid for 11 days”.
Mandiwanzira’s AB Communications has, over the past few years, been one of the fastest growing media enterprises in the country.
The group’s subsidiaries include three radio stations, media production house Mighty Movies and the recently launched niche weekly publication the Business Times.
However, staff revealed Thursday that they had been asked to sign revised contracts effective February 1, 2019.
“All is not well,” said one journalist who preferred anonymity fearing victimisation.
“We have signed new contracts with state that as from Friday the 1st February, we will only be coming to working for just 11 days per month,” said an AB Communications staffer.
“Our salaries have also been cut by 50%.”
Journalists at the Business Times are understood to have refused to sign the revised contracts.
“We left our more secure jobs with other media houses after he (Mandiwanzira) offered to double our,” said the reporter with the financial publication.
“He was later to cut our salaries after a few months; and now this! It’s better they give us retrenchment packages and we go.”
Group CEO Susan Makore denied staff claims that salaries had been cut in half.
“No salary cuts and, as I speak, we are currently processing January salaries,” Makore told NewZimbabwe.com.
But, and as you may also know, various companies are implementing austerity measures and our organisation employs largely freelancers and they work as they are needed.”
Players in the country’s broadcast industry are also urging the authorities to address unfair competition which benefits public broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).
ZBC is legally entitled to, and collects, a mandatory licence fee from viewers and listeners and yet competes with other broadcasters for advertising revenue.
“ZBC has guaranteed revenue through the licence fee, which means they can afford to charge the lowest rates for advertising. It’s an unfair arrangement for ZBC’s commercial rivals,” a media commentator said.
“It doesn’t help as well that other media rivals in which the government has an interest are assisted with tax breaks.”