As a trained journalist, I was left with a gnawing feeling of despondency and dejection, as I strongly believed that we were only proficient at print (both hard copy and online) media – which is the only place I have encountered well-researched, professionally-presented and most brilliant workmanship.
Yet, in our electronic media the situation has been horrid and disgraceful – the only broadcaster in Zimbabwe for the past 62 years having being the state-controlled ZBC (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation), as the first radio transmission in then Rhodesia was via Imperial Airways in 1933, which provided radio guidance and weather reports, and the first professional broadcaster established in 1941.
The predecessor to ZBC, the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation (RBC) was set up on November 14, 1960, in the then capital Salisbury (Harare) – as the Rhodesia Television Company – and, initially owned by Argus Newspapers, and Davenport and Meyer.
In my growing up, as far as I can remember watching television from the 1970s, production at this RBC cum ZBC were of quite exceptional quality – providing respectable family viewing, characterized by outstandingly researched and presented material.
In fact, as much as daily television programming commenced at around 15:30 hrs, lasting only up to 23:00 hrs (or thereabouts) – my family never saw the need to buy such convenient gadgets of the time, as VCRs and DVDs, since we were quite satisfied with what we received from ZBC.
Truth be told, my first time to possess satellite television in my home was in 2010, on my return from a stint in South Africa – as ZBC had become extremely unbearable and could not endure the torturous low quality, pathetic and deplorable programming anymore, which had tragically become the norm at the turn of the new millennium.
Maybe, in an effort to fulfill the initial 100 percent local content requirement, and later reduced to 75 percent – the local broadcaster found keeping up with the new demands challenging.
However, I tend to believe otherwise, because even well before these regulations, ZBC produced remarkably excellent material – with some of their current affairs programs, as The Nation, being a favorite of mine.
Let me make it clear – as this has been a cause of confusion – when I speak of depreciating standards at ZBC, I am not simply referring to the shameless cheap ZANU PF propaganda spewed on the station on a maddeningly relentless basis.
The broadcaster had always been a mouthpiece of the establishment – from its early RBC years, which was used to advance the colonial agenda, whilst portraying liberation movements as trouble-causing terrorists.
As a matter of fact, there is no news channel on the face of the planet that can genuinely call itself objective, and truly fair and balanced – save for, maybe, the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) which I am relatively impressed with, although there is always room for improvement.
Nevertheless, a quick look at Sky News shows that it is ferociously anti-Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party (or, pro-Labour) in the UK, CNN is fiercely anti-Republican Party (or, pro-Democrats) in the US, whilst Fox News is rabidly pro-Republican (and, anti-Democrat).
Even during the Donald Trump era, it was nearly impossible to find any media outlet in this world (except for Fox News) that gave the man credit for anything good, but made their names in finding fault in everything and anything he did.
However, these have been largely privately-owned news channels.
Therefore, my issue with ZBC goes beyond its blind pro-ZANU PF slant – although, I definitely have issues with its flagrant violation of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which, under Section 61(4), mandates “all state-owned media of communication to be free to determine independently the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications; be impartial; and afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions “.
None of which have ever been fulfilled – since there have been widespread reports of personnel being fired for reporting “wrongly”, or instructed how to perform their duties by government officials, or even non-state actors, as wives of the powers-that-be.
In fact, ZBC has been reduced to a shameless desk in the ruling ZANU PF party’s information department – without a mind of its own.
Nonetheless, my biggest problem with the state-controlled broadcaster is that, even its propaganda programming is disgusting and appalling – lacking any flavor, poorly-researched and downright brutal to the intellect – a stark contrast to all the other international news channels I made reference earlier.
As least, if you want to act as a mouthpiece for any entity, then do it perfectly, meticulously and above par!
This is not to mention the endless childish shoddily-produced dramas shown on the channel – which, even a two-year old would find extremely annoying or irritating, and even mind-destroying (since, I genuinely believe watching that stuff subsequently damages one’s intellectual capacity).
That is where the new baby on the block comes in – the ZimPapers Television Network (ZTN).
In the past month that I have watched the channel, since its debut on the DStv platform (although, it had already been active online), I have been immensely impressed with the variety and high quality of programs.
It is as if ZTN has become the new national broadcaster – since, it is similarly owned by the government of Zimbabwe, through its ZimPapers stable (publishers of The Herald, Sunday Mail, and others).
I have thoroughly enjoyed watching their productions – with their distinguished and indepth research and presentation – as I am more of a current affairs, documentary, and news person.
Knowing how so many Zimbabweans had understandably weaned themselves from, and had become averse to, local television – it was a difficult task trying to convince friends to give ZTN a try, as they may just be pleasantly surprised.
Nevertheless, as ZBC is still officially the national broadcaster – not only milking our tax dollars, and forcing citizens to buy licences – it is imperative for its executive and management to learn a thing or two from ZTN on how to produce quality programming.
Maybe, this requires investing in a well-trained, experienced, and highly-proficient workforce – because, it is undeniable that, the station is largely manned by novices and those still wet on the nose, some of whom actually graduate from journalism school well after being employed by the corporation for a while (longer than the usual industrial attachment period).
These college television or radio station standards do not auger well with the Zimbabwean population which expects and demands value for their money – besides the station also acting as the face of the country to our foreign visitors.
Surely, the standards have gone to such disgusting levels that, in spite of the most difficult economic hardships facing most Zimbabweans, they are still forced to source for those hard-to-come-by US Dollars to pay DStv every month.
Just imagine if that was money being channeled towards ZBC, had Zimbabweans been satisfied with the programing.
At least, ZTN has rekindled my belief and hope in our abilities, as Zimbabweans, in the field of broadcasting.
© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, researcher, and social commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700 / +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936 / +263733399640, or email: [email protected]Post published in: Featured