ZBC TV has been historically manipulated by the elite to further their interests while pushing the views of the ordinary people to obscurity. With the demise of longtime president Robert Mugabe, most peace loving Zimbabweans were clamouring for the re-alignment of Zimbabwean legislation to the 2013 constitution. ZBC TV was, amongst other reforms, expected to operate as a neutral national broadcaster in line with the constitution.
Most importantly, this time the national broadcaster has a role to play in ensuring transparency, and accountability, in the forthcoming elections. Without an informed citizenry elections cannot be said to be free and fair. If the media engages the populace in a public debate and ensures the public has adequate knowledge on the parties’ policies and candidates, then the citizens can make well informed decisions when casting their ballot. The Zimbabwean national broadcaster has so far been a far cry from the above mentioned norms. It has been awash with the ZANU PF story while the main opposition MDC and other opposition parties have resorted to other platforms to air their views and explain their manifestos to the electorate.
ZTV, then called RBC (Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation), was used by the Smith regime to denigrate and muzzle dissenting voices during the liberation struggle. It was seen as a platform to annihilate the rising nationalism spirit amongst the majority black people. Unfortunately ZANU inherited the national television and its elitist hallmarks at independence, and, as a result, it gave no space to dissenting voices let alone opposition parties. This culminated in the dark media years all Zimbabweans would rather forget when the government introduced draconian media laws such as AIPPA, POSA and the 100% local content. Even though the 100% local content was not entirely a bad idea, it was marred by propagandist approach centered on portraying the then president Robert Mugabe as a god-given, charismatic and all-knowing leader. This is an idea which is divorced from how a national broadcaster should operate.
ZBC and ZTV were expected to act as true national broadcaster, providing a platform for national debate, accommodating even the minority groups. There has been little change in terms of providing a voice to the minority groups. Our soaps, series, documentaries and dramas are mainly in English, Shona and Ndebele, leaving the remainder of the dialects in alienation. ZTV programming is nowhere near SABC which provides a space for their local languages in soaps such as Muvhango. This has seen a mass exodus of viewers from our traditional television to South African based multi- choice DSTV.
The national television has been acting as the mouthpiece of the ruling party especially towards elections. The propaganda it disseminates for the ruling party can hardly be missed even though it comes in various forms. While everybody is hopeful for ZBC TV to reflect the attributes of a national broadcaster, the news hour agenda setting has proven that the first lady is gaining more popularity than the bread and butter issues. The national broadcaster continues to be ZANU PFs lap dog which rarely blows the whistle when they abuse power.
Democratic change has to be driven by media reform. The media has a role to educate, inform and entertain, and,as such, ZBC TV should play this role in an impartial, unbiased and truthful manner.