THE INTERVIEW Lovemore Ranga Mataire
LRM: There is a general perception that the country’s media landscape is polarised and constricted in terms of growth and is unable to absorb the multitudes of graduates coming from institutions of higher learning. What is your general assessment of the country’s media landscape and what do you think can be done to stir growth and reduce the polarisation?
NM: I think there are polarisation issues which bedevil our media landscape pitting the anti-establishment media against the pro-Government media. This, of course, has lowered the standard of the output. Even the EU observers who I had a meeting with today (yesterday) said they could not relate to what they were reading in papers across that polar divide and what they had said in their Press statement and their report.
They basically said none of the positions in the media represented their position. They did not speak highly of the quality of our journalism. I believe raising the standard of journalism, resourcing and supporting the institutions charged with dealing with issues of ethics and fairness in the profession such as ZMC (Zimbabwe Media Commission), would help raise the standard of journalism in this country.
There is probably a need to review training curricula and continuing professional development of those in practice so that they maintain the standards they learn in class.
Then, there is the issue of developing the media industry itself to be a major commercial sector so as to absorb artists, journalists, graduates and content producers into employment. The ministry is charged with that responsibility and it is its intention to develop it.
LRM: Anticipation is rife that the media landscape is going to be broadened as more newspapers, radio and television stations are likely to be given operating licences in line with the Government’s thrust of deepening democracy and enhancing transparency and accountability. What role do you think the Government can play in creating an enabling environment for the media to thrive?
NM: The Government’s role is licensing more players through BAZ (Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe), as well as developing the necessary infrastructure such as transmitters that cover the length and breadth of the country.
It also has a responsibility to spearhead the Media Reform Agenda by aligning (the) BSA (Broadcasting Services Act) and AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) to the Constitution.
On this matter, the President has already pronounced himself and the ministry will spearhead the necessary reforms
LRM: You have in the past expressed reservations about the country’s national broadcaster — ZBC’s operations. With your experience of having worked abroad and having been a regular commentator on various television stations and radio stations, what do you think is generally lacking at the national broadcaster and what can be done to revamp its operations and make it competitive?
NM: I think what is lacking is training and opportunities to benchmark our practice and product with other international broadcasters and standards.
The ZBC has to monitor its own viewership and listen to its customers. They should ask themselves why Zimbabwean viewers trust news about Zimbabwe reported by their South African counterparts or other stations from elsewhere outside Zimbabwe.
They should fight to take back the customers and it’s a challenge we are putting to them to show that they are growing both their viewership and radio audience from period to period.
We expect a quality improvement programme from them and how they can achieve that international standard that would make every Zimbabwean in Zimbabwe and in the Diaspora say, “I saw this thing on ZBC, so it must be true”.
Zimbabweans must be proud of their national broadcaster. But that pride has to be because the content is good and the quality is not embarrassing.
LRM: Media practitioners have long advocated for a self-regulatory body to deal with ethical issues, code of conduct for journalists and common standard practices. Briefly outline the ministry’s vision regarding the regulatory framework of the media in Zimbabwe?
NM: The ministry’s vision is to make the whole Section 248 of the Constitution come to life. The ZMC is charged with some of the things you are asking.
If it’s resourced and empowered to perform its constitutional function and some still feel there is a need for another way of managing things differently, then, in our daily conversations with the media stakeholders, we will listen to their ideas and suggestions and support practitioners in whatever they suggest, which is not contrary to the national interest.
LRM: Digitisation has been on the ministry’s radar for a long time. Can you briefly explain what has so far stalled full implementation of Digital Terrestrial Television project?
NM: The primary challenge is limited foreign currency reserves in the country. From transmitters to set top boxes all demand forex. So, that has been the challenge but there are plans to find creative ways to overcome such challenges.
LRM: Four years ago, the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services set up the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) to assess the operations of Zimbabwe’s media industry. When is the Ministry going to consider IMPI’s recommendations to develop a media policy for the industry?
NM: We have been handed the IMPI report, which is a very voluminous document. We will look at it and use it as the base on which we will develop a media policy.
LRM: Are we likely to see a reconfiguration of entities within the ministry’s purview to ensure that they conform to the dictates of the Government’s Vision 2030 of becoming a middle income economy?
NM: We are studying what we have and whether their structure fits with the broad national agenda of becoming an upper middle income country by 2030. There are decisions which have already been made such as merging the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) and Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PORTRAZ) and the Government is already working on realising that.