The licensing of six new television stations ended the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) 40-year monopoly, but fell far short of expectations that it will ensure diversity in the sector.
On Friday, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) said it had licensed Acacia Media Limited, Channel Dzimbabwe, Fairtalk Communications, Jester Media, Rusununguko and Zimpapers Television Network (ZTN).
Rusununguko is owned by the military while others like ZTN are either controlled by the government or associated with businesses or individuals that are linked to the ruling Zanu PF or the state.
The announcement of the new licences was criticised by advocates of freedom of speech, who rightfully pointed out that there was lack of diversity in the selection of the new TV players.
One of the reasons Zimbabweans were clamouring for the licensing of new players was because they are not happy with ZBC’s lack of professionalism, including bias towards the ruling Zanu PF.
Zanu PF treats ZBC as its mouthpiece and there is a culture among journalists at the corporation to see themselves as appendages of the ruling party.
This is why some journalists contested in the last elections on Zanu PF tickets and still did not see anything wrong with returning to the newsroom after losing the polls.
The same applies to Zimpapers, whose newspaper titles and radio stations are propaganda platforms for Zanu PF and rarely serve their public service role.
By giving ZTN a licence, BAZ ensured that the ruling party strengthens its stranglehold on the media industry in Zimbabwe and this represents another step backwards in the fight to ensure that Zimbabwe becomes a democracy.
Diversity in the broadcasting sector can only be achieved with the licencing of players from different backgrounds and limiting the influence of partisan politics.
Nonetheless, the new entrants need to learn from ZBC struggles that propaganda does not pay the bills.
The new entrants will close shop faster than they opened if they make it their business to push partisan content, especially in support of narrow agendas of political elites.
On the other hand, BAZ still has a chance to redeem itself by handling the looming licensing of community radio stations in a more professional manner.
Zimbabweans are demanding genuine liberalisation of the airwaves to ensure diversity.
BAZ cannot afford to let another chance to grow Zimbabwe’s broadcasting go begging.
Despite being a pioneer in Africa’s TV broadcasting sector, Zimbabwe now lags behind most countries largely because of the skewed licensing processes and bad laws.