HARARE – When millions of Zimbabweans woke up to see that one little word “scrambled”, on their TV screens a few days ago it seemed suspiciously coincidental.
Everyone knew it was coming one of these days, but why now?
How could Botswana and South Africa scramble the satellite signal at a time like this, just a month before critical elections?
Doom and gloom was widespread as people had no choice but to switch on to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and for the first time in years make use of that ZBC TV licence they had been forced to buy.
Year after year, rural or urban, ZBC licence inspectors have demanded payment even though people were never watching ZBC and had instead tuned to regional satellite channels.
ZBC said people had to pay the stipulated licence fee because viewers were using Zimbabwe’s “airwaves”.
The broadcaster uses this same excuse when they stop cars in rush hour traffic and insist motorists produce ZBC radio licences even if they only use MP3 players.
For now, the hundreds of thousands of satellite dishes crowded on walls, roofs and balconies of high density flats, wooden cabins and even on poles outside war veterans’ mud huts on seized farms, have become useless.
But not for long because information is like a drug; it has the same effect as ice cream, cigarettes or alcohol: once you’ve tasted it, the longing and determination to have it again is addictive.
For millions of Zimbabweans ZBC is nowhere near ready to become an acceptable replacement for pirated satellite TV channels.
Last week, after rejecting an MDC advert from the Prime Minister’s office, ZBC said they were not yet accepting political advertising ahead of the 2013 elections and were waiting for a directive from Zec.
ZBC chief executive officer Happison Muchechetere said Zanu PF adverts already being broadcast, “were there before the proclamation of the election date, after that, there was nothing”. Muchetetere said ZBC were still waiting for a directive from Zec but the very next day we were bombarded with adverts on ZBC about the launch of Zanu PF’s election manifesto. Isn’t that political advertising?
On Friday ZBC TV became Zanu PF TV as it screened a live, five-hour, uninterrupted broadcast of the Zanu PF election manifesto launch with no message to viewers on the screen as to when normal programming would resume.
If this isn’t political advertising then what is?
ZBC spokesperson Sivukile Simango was quoted in the press last week as saying that all political parties would be given equal air time in the run up to the July 31 election.
Simango said ZBC would: “not accept advertisements that violate our ethical standards and those that propagate hate speech or those that demean other political parties.”
We query if ZBC’s “ethical standards” are restricted to adverts and why they do not similarly apply to live broadcasts?
Aren’t slogans like: “down with Tsvangirai, down with Ncube, down with Dabengwa, down with Makoni, down with Mukwazhe, “considered to be phrases which are demeaning of other political parties?
All these slogans were repeatedly chanted during the live screening of Zanu PF’s election manifesto.
One afternoon with ZBC is enough to chase anyone away.
Noone wants to watch hour after hour of one political party going on about legions of invisible enemies, or insulting people and describing President Jacob Zuma’s international relations advisor Lindiwe Zulu as a “stupid, idiotic street woman.”
Zimbabweans don’t want to see this, nor do they want to have to explain to their children why it’s acceptable for our leaders to insult and demean people live on national television.