ZBC: Licenses to kill


In a country where paying $10 monthly water bills is a burden to most people, forking out $50 for Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s annual license is just frivolous.

The few Zimbabweans sitting in cushy offices do not get that most people earn as little as $30 per month.

The sneering City of Bulawayo, because they do not pay water bills as a staff benefit, can laugh off water problems with press statements gushing – excuse the pun – over prepaid water meters.


“Water that suits your pocket,” the statement read.

I never in my life ever imagined that water could be so flagrantly commodified. The gods must be plain crazy!
The public broadcaster’s gods are just as obnoxious.

It is highly unethical for a public broadcaster to charge the masses for licenses and then go on to provide radio and TV services that are laden with private advertising.

African public broadcasters have been getting away with this since the 60’s!

For Zimbabwe, since Rhodesia was the first to have television in 1960, it was probably a UDI tactic that the desperate Ian Smith regime used to boost its coffers.

For other African countries that later got TV, it was a case of ignorance is bliss and business as usual. Isn’t that’s how things work in Africa?

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) – where we get it all from – collects radio and TV license fees in the UK. I’ve never been there to the UK but let me assure you that it does not supply radio and TV programmes with adverts within the UK.

“But I’ve seen adverts on BBC News,” you cry! That’s the BBC Worldwide Service and it’s another company all together that the BBC uses to charge the rest of the world instead.

Licenses are nearly non existent in the Americas. The US – I’ve never been either – because it’s such a huge and commercial country, has a beleaguered NGO like public broadcaster, PBS.

The NBC and ABC for example are private companies National Broadcasting Company and American Broadcasting Company and not public corporations.

Therefore, broadcasters that call themselves corporations because they are publicly funded cannot and should not offer programmes with adverts.

Those that do so have to be hauled to the courts to account for profiteering and operating a monopoly. It’s a double revenue model!

That means that the ZBC, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and the whole lot in Africa survive by knocking at people’s gates and then knock at companies for private adverts.

They act as a public broadcaster and a private commercial broadcaster at the same time!

The licensing model works for the BBC because the UK is a developed economy. They raise over $5 billion per year on licenses only! Not a single soap, toothpaste or shoe polish advert is aired.

That is how public broadcasting works instead of the poor arguments both the lawyer representing the people and the ZBC defendant displayed at the Constitutional Court weeks ago.

Why is South Africa’s e.tv former boss Marcel Golding being scandalised? He accepted paid-for political programmes on the private channel and yet was applying to distribute public digital TV decoders at the same time using another company!

South Africa has an ethics committee that sits with red eyes waiting for offenders in broadcasting! He must have forgotten. He lost his job as CEO.

DSTV could charge $1000 per month for services with adverts and it would be ok because they are a private company.

Subscribers pay willingly or are cut off from watching because it’s a digital system. For the ZBC, it’s a different case because the system is analogue.

When radio was developed 100 years ago, it was deemed to be a controlled substance like prescription drugs.

That’s why you have to buy a license first before being allowed to buy a radio receiver or a TV.

Then along came Walkman’s and cell phones with digital radios and that 100 year old law has egg on it’s face because it had no idea that digital would ever happen.

Arguing that you don’t watch or listen to ZBC TV/radio doesn’t help because the law 100 years ago didn’t know that there would be private and satellite broadcasters either.

The law bottom line requires us all to pay for licenses for owning receivers.

Now that’s not thrilling. Let’s kill the license laws instead. It doesn’t work properly in Africa.

Nuisance car radio inspection roadblocks mushroom. At least home owners and their lodgers’ stampede to lock gates or stash TV’s behind sofas when license inspectors are buzzing about!

Several countries have never had licenses like Nigeria, US, Canada and China. Others abolished them like Australia, New Zealand and Netherlands.

Sonny Jermain writes in his private capacity. This piece is an excerpt from his book “I Deserve To Be: Selfworth Is A Silent Killer” that is due 2015.