in the wake of the intensification of pirate broadcasts into Zimbabwe that has sucked in Sentech, a parastatal that carries the signal of the three SABC stations. This comes in the wake of the scheduled launch today of the British government-funded pirate television station, 1st TV, set to fill the void left by the removal of the SABC signal from the Free To Air platform three weeks ago
Over the past few weeks, as the Zimbabwe entered election season, there was a noticeable, two-pronged intensification of pirate broadcasts into Zimbabwe manifest, firstly in the intensification of programming which was lengthened and taken beyond mere news casting to discursive programmes; and secondly expansion towards new genres, principally the audio-visual being brought in through 1st TV.
All this in violation of the Global Political Agreement that makes a strong case against pirate broadcasting.
Article 19.1(c) (i) of the GPA outlaws pirate broadcasts into Zimbabwe. The section calls ‘’upon the governments that are hosting and/or funding external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe to cease such hosting and funding’’
Observers have queried whether it was coincidental that Sentech scrambled the SABC signal effectively removing the three channels from the FTA platform three weeks ago, only to have 1st TV announce its arrival on the same platform three weeks removed.
The SA signal carrier was in Harare this week negotiating with ZBC in a bid to get it to carry the SABC channels when it had left a platform for pirate broadcasts.
Contacted for comment on the development Media, Information and Publicity permanent secretary Mr George Charamba said Government was aware of the technical co-operation between Sentech and VOA and would pursue diplomatic channels.
’We have been aware of the technical corroboration between VOA and Sentech, what we did not expect was this expansion of that corroboration. Also we are not very sure if the South African government is aware of what its parastatal is doing to hurt Zimbabwean interests. We will pursue diplomatic channels,’’ he Charamba said.
The British government has roped in ex-Rhodesian Andrew Chadwick, one time don of communications in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Office; Violet Gonda of the pirate radio station Short Wave Radio Africa and Studio 7; and forgotten ex-ZBC staffer Temba Hove to spearhead the project.
Sources close to developments said 1st TV was to work on the basis of continual feed from international news networks operating in Zimbabwe, among them the Associated Press which hit the headlines after two of its staffers were seconded to the Prime Minister’s office. It has since emerged that the staffers – Tsvangirai Mukwazhi and Farai Mutsaka – were to feed into the IST TV project.
There has also been an attempt to strengthen the Reuters’ TV side pursuant to that objective.
These international networks were to be complemented by a glut of journalists from outside who were to come into Zimbabwe for the elections amid reports of unusually high interest from TV crews.
Mr Charamba said Government was aware of the development.
‘’We are alive to this connection and we will be taking decisions mindful of the need to cripple this pirate television broadcast station,’’ Mr Charamba said.
Sources close to developments said the MDC-T’s push for an October poll was meant to give various western projects launched to abet its campaign sufficient time to be established, and the Constitutional Court ruling ordering polls by July 31 had brought forward the 1st Tv project.
Efforts to get comment from Zanu-PF and the MDC were unsuccessful last night with MDC-T spokesperson alluding his party’s support for the 1st TV project.
’The GPA binds parties to it and does not bind people outside it. The individuals you are talking about are not signatories to the GPA. I don’t think if there was a fair coverage in the national broadcaster of every interested citizen we would be talking of something about that TV. The individuals who have established it are better placed to comment on that. As MDC, we are also waiting to see what exactly the TV will be broadcasting,’’ Mr Douglas Mwonzora, MDC-T spokesman, said.
US ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Bruce Wharton has been despatching letters, couched in the language of the GPA to various institutions involved in the elections, and observers said it remained to be seen whether he would similarly write a protest letter to the MDC-T and the facilitator over the flagrant violation of the letter and spirit of the GPA manifest in the intensification of pirate broadcasts.