By Robert Tapfumaneyi
STATE-OWNED broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) is set to expand its television empire to six stations within the next three months.
This was revealed by Information and Publicity Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana during a live radio interview with a local station this past week.
Mangwana said the new development was in line with government’s roll out of its long-delayed digitisation programme set to make room for a total of 24 television channels for the country.
Of these, ZBC shall control six with the rest up for grabs among private players.
“ZBC has capacity and has got enough content to run a total of six channels,” Mangwana said.
“Now we have just finished studio six, ZBC is almost ready.
“Because we got capacity for 24 channels in Zimbabwe and we are going to have 24 channels in Zimbabwe, going forward and of the 24, ZBC will have six.”
Mangwana did not state when exactly authorities shall call for applications from private players although he said the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe was soon going to be reconstituted to handle the task.
The government official said viewers will get the signal via decoders and that government was working with an unnamed partner to bring in enough decoders from outside.
“One of the first things we are going to make sure is done is that BAZ has a board,” he said.
“Then the next issue is the forex challenges which the country is really struggling with at the moment.
“That has informed the other delay in fully going digital but we have an intention hopefully within the 90 days to have finished the beat that has been left.
“Let me put it in what people would understand, the decoders.
“And once we get decoders and BAZ has a board, and then hopefully within the next 100 days we would have switched on.
“That’s our hope and we are working very hard and we are talking to a partner regarding forex who is gonna help us; this is a transaction we gonna do, it’s too early to make pronouncement about that but yes we hope within 100 days we will be switched on.”
While the opening up of the airwaves will be a welcome development in a country with closed broadcasting space, questions shall be raised over ZBC’s capacity to run five new television stations amid claims it was failing to properly manage its sole channel.
Mangwana said as of now, ZBC has content which is ready to go on air.
“As I am talking to you, ZBC has over 8 600 plus hours of content which is ready and it’s a question of switching on,” he said.
In 2015, ZTV closed its Channel 2 after few months of operation.
Private players are up in arms with authorities for allowing ZBC carte blanche to extend its broadcasting empire without going through the often cumbersome process of applying and making presentations before BAZ.
ZBC mid-last year launched two new radio stations in Gweru – Central FM and Khulumani FM – in Bulawayo.
This was on top of its other four radio stations PowerFM, Classic263 (formerly SFM), Radio Zimbabwe and National FM.
ZBC-TV has lost a giant chunk of its viewership due to poor programming which has often been seen as too biased towards the ruling Zanu PF party.
The ZBC monopoly has also stifled the growth of the local film and television industry.