‘ZBC-TV needs programming overhaul’

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THE current national lockdown due to coronavirus (Covid-19) has exposed Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation ZBC-TV’s inability to screen quality programmes as it is struggling to maintain its 24-hour screening shift.

Since the lockdown many people who cannot afford DStv have turned to the national broadcaster for entertainment; but they are disappointed at the poor content distribution on ZBC-TV.

Former ZBC producer and writer for the drama department between 2005 and 2007, Thokozile Zulu said what is needed is a complete programming overhaul at the national broadcaster.

“What we need are very good stories and production budgets to achieve high quality content strategies especially looking at how our local broadcaster is struggling financially.

“It is therefore crucial to explore a complete scheduling overhaul and probably have an exclusive ZBC-TV content department whose main function is to vet internal programme concepts and rewrite them should need be before going into production, shortlist, invite independent producers for pitching sessions and run screenwriting workshops to improve the skills of existing and new content writers,” Zulu said.

She also took the national broadcaster to task over some of its policies which she described as primitive.

“Reworking the same actors or artists can also limit productivity and diversity and our national broadcaster has the lazy habit of commissioning familiar territory or brands that could have already outlived their shelf life.

“This tendency blinds commissioning officers to stronger and better industry players who could deliver better.”
Zulu, however, acknowledged that the current budgetary constraints at ZBC-TV make it difficult if not impossible for producers to deliver professional projects as they will have to cut many corners instead of adhering to proper shooting procedures and processes.

She also highlighted that ZBC-TV’s marketing department has a huge role to play in roping in the private business sectors for investment in high-end television content.

The former creator, writer and project coordinator at Amakhosi Cultural Centre had some positive words for the national broadcaster. “In terms of empowering local talent, the broadcaster has played a role promoting new industry players and balancing them with the old to strike a user friendly working environment also embracing other local languages.”

Zulu, who is former wife to veteran arts administrator Cont Mhlanga said there was also need for government to completely and genuinely open the airwaves and allow competition in the industry.

“Opening the airwaves and introducing other industry players can also play a very big role in improving the quality of content produced locally. What would be critical to the positive ground covered would be to effectively follow in South Africa’s footsteps where they separate their programming to avoid confusion.

“For instance, ZBC-TV can also branch out to have three different local TV stations, one broadcasting mainly in Shona and English, another in Ndebele and English and the third to showcase content in indigenous languages to give their audience a broader and distinct choice.”

Zulu, who also had a stint as director of Intwasa Arts Festival in 2008, said the national broadcaster needed to import ideas from successful countries, most of whose programmes and channels are popular in Zimbabwe.

“The quality of content currently being produced in Zimbabwe has deteriorated over the years instead of getting better. If production budgets and talent fees are hiked, the quality of content has potential to also evolve.

“It would also help to invite successful regional and international brands to Zimbabwe to run workshops and collaborations geared towards better execution in both story and technical production techniques or send high performing producers to training workshops,” she said.

Zulu said the talent in Zimbabwe cannot be doubted.

“Zimbabwe has creative talent that can be tapped into, looking at the local films that were produced when our television and film industries were still thriving.

“Every country is unique in its culture and talent, we have our own breed that can stand tall and be counted especially if you follow Zimbabwean talent across the globe. We have Charlene Chiedza Kudzai Mhende in the long running successful television soap, Generations, American-based actress Danai Gurira in Black Panther and American-based Godwin Jabangwe who was commissioned by Netflix for his animation feature film Tunga and many other unsung heroes and heroines in the creative industries who are flying our flag high across the globe.”

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