In an ensuing altercation with the two messengers, I was reminded tellingly and in authoritarian police fashion that I was legally compelled to pay for the licence. That was before I made it categorically clear that no one — not even the police, could bully me into paying the licence fee. The confrontation with the two State functionaries left me wondering why I should pay for a service I do not utilise.
Despite a provision in the ZBC Commercialisation Act authorising the broadcaster to collect licence fees from anyone deemed to own a television licence, I thought to myself, the law was on this aspect totally unreasonable — forcing me to pay for a product I do not utilise. For this reason, I believe the coercion to pay the licence fee is not only a violation of my right to choice as a consumer, but also of my freedom of association, which by the way is also protected by the constitution.
I am probably one of the millions of citizens who have stopped watching ZBC owing to the broadcaster’s incapability to deliver quality and tasteful programming. Satellite television which includes DStv and the free-to-air channels offer alternative, topnotch viewing to ZBC’s poor programming. And, because I like what DStv offers me, I dutifully and without any qualms, pay for its subscription.
In most parts of the world, public service broadcasting is undergoing fundamental changes in line with the internet and digitalisation evolution, so should ZBC. But alas, ZBC has chosen to remain stuck in Stone Age broadcasting yet demands first world prices. ZBC’s failure to deliver what consumers want is a shining example of the service inertia of public institutions in this country — heavy-handed on collecting payments for services but short on delivery.
Apart from the unreasonableness of being asked to pay for a television service which I am not watching, the US$50 ZBC is claiming from hapless viewers is exorbitant and inconsistent with the low-standard programming, partisanship and propaganda drivel the broadcaster spews. Public broadcasting services are supposed to be universal, meaning they must be available to all citizens in the country, at the lowest price possible. And by charging US$50, ZBC is clearly not doing that.
Hitherto, ZBC shareholders are reluctant to transform the broadcaster into a proper public service broadcasting system in keeping with broadcasting trends elsewhere. ZBC ought to deliver and reform first if they want a claim to my hard earned Obama dollar. The truism Dead BC is a general statement that speaks volumes of ZBC service abilities.
It is also quite disturbing to observe that ZBC is available on the DStv facility but continues to demand as much as US$50 dollars from the same viewers. Does that not amount to penny pinching?
A lawyer friend of mine tells me there is a case before the courts in Chinhoyi where an institutional viewer is challenging the legality of ZBC demanding licence fees from viewers not watching their service, particularly those who own DStv and are situated in areas not receptive to ZBC television.
One of the prerequisites for being part of the media is access; however, access cannot subsist without technological connection. I am counting on the positive verdict of the court case to liberate me from further harassment by ZBC. Going forward, it is perhaps time ZBC considered subscription or pay-per-view television.
BY JUSTIN T MAKOMBE