Parly broadcasting: ZBC must not over-censor itself

No sane person would hold the public broadcaster accountable for the dishonourable behaviour of people who should be honourable

No sane person would hold the public broadcaster accountable for the dishonourable behaviour of people who should be honourable

Lloyd Gumbo: Mr Speaker Sir
Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation has for the third time in as many weeks outdone itself as authorities there seem to be on an overdrive to unduly over-censor themselves even when there is no need to.

When the national broadcaster resolved to give live television coverage to Parliamentary proceedings every Wednesday during question time and radio broadcast on Spot FM for every sitting from Tuesday to Thursday, the majority of people took it as a positive development that was in line with international trends.

Finally, they thought, ZBC had discovered the missing puzzle that would attract viewers to watch its broadcasts. But Mr Speaker Sir, the national broadcaster never disappoints those who have may have lost faith in it because its decisions and actions leave a lot to be desired. For example, only three weeks ago, during President Mugabe’s speech at the official opening of the Fourth Session of the Eighth Parliament, their broadcast was delayed, yet claimed that it was live.

A week later, they cut live footage from the chamber when Nelson Chamisa named and shamed ministers who were notorious for absconding parliamentary business despite the fact that it is a constitutional requirement that they attend Parliament in general but question time on Wednesdays in particular.

Then this Wednesday, they cut live footage from the National Assembly again when rowdy MDC-T MPs resisted a ruling by the chair. It is obvious that in their wisdom or lack of it, they think they will be protecting the ruling party or its officials.

Mr Speaker Sir, when ZBC started live television coverage of Parliamentary Question Time, this column was quick to point out that the development allowed the electorate to be judges as they viewed their representatives at work.

To that end, the column added that live broadcast would make or break some MPs in their chosen field. The writer was to be vindicated in August during the public hearings on the Land Commission Bill in Mutare and Masvingo, when members of the public castigated MPs for their “childish” behaviour in Parliament through heckling each other.

It is for that reason that some of us thought the broadcaster wanted to allow viewers, let alone the electorate, to see the calibre of representatives that they sent to make laws for them. But unfortunately, when it matters most and the House is getting heated up, ZBC finds it appropriate to focus cameras on anchors and analysts instead of allowing the electorate to judge for themselves.

Mr Speaker Sir, the national broadcaster may argue that it does not want to be seen to be inflaming childish behaviour in Parliament because of the cameras.

But the main issue is they think they will be doing the ruling party a big favour, without which the revolutionary party and Government would be exposed. Better still, ZBC may claim that it does not want viewers to watch unpalatable stuff, which could be a point but irrelevant in the 21st century where technology is dictating public discourse.

Mr Speaker Sir, it is generally agreed that live broadcasting is attractive and exciting for the audience, which according to writers Tuggle and Huffman is considered a strategic success factor.

If truth be told, live television broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings has built audience interest, with most people dedicating their Wednesdays afternoon to ZTV to watch Question Time. It therefore, defies logic why the national broadcaster, whose primary role is public service, over-censors itself during parliamentary proceedings on deliberations that they may feel in their wisdom or abundantly lack of it, is unpalatable for the consumption of viewers.

No sane person would hold the public broadcaster accountable for the dishonourable behaviour of people who should be honourable. For instance, if an MP swears or goes berserk and strips naked while on the floor during live broadcast, no one can blame the national broadcaster for that.

They should understand such “unpalatable stuff” is the price of live coverage. Mr Speaker Sir, when broadcasters decide to go live, whether it is a soccer match, a political rally or Parliament, they would have weighed the price of such a move but decided to proceed. So once ZBC has taken a position that it wants to do live broadcast of parliamentary proceedings, it should go for it and stop this tendency of unduly over-censoring itself.

Surely, the national broadcaster cannot be held accountable for dishonourable behaviour or anything that unfolds in the chamber because they have no control over it.

If they were not ready to face the consequences, then they would opt for pre-recording than live broadcasting, which would allow them to edit and remove the sections they feel are “unpalatable”.

Besides, live broadcasting is the best practice the world over. Mr Speaker Sir, the national broadcaster must focus on the bigger picture, which is that they have taken a position that they want to go live, which is the most progressive decision that obviously has its pros and cons.

It is without doubt that the decision to divert cameras from the chamber as the scuffle ensued on Wednesday was thought to be protecting Government or Zanu-PF against rowdy MDC-T MPs.

Yet on hindsight, what happened on Wednesday has nothing to do with Zanu-PF but everything to do with the calibre of MDC-T MPs, who stand to lose in the eyes of the electorate for defying their own rules, which state that once the chair has made a ruling, one has to comply whether they like it or not.

In fact, it is backward for ZBC to think they can gatekeep public events, where almost everyone has a smartphone, can record the same and the footage goes viral on social media.

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  • Reuben Mukondiwa

    Dead BC