THE outrage shown by Zimbabweans following the decision by the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to disconnect its channels on free-to-air decoders must be a cause for concern for our only broadcaster, ZBC.
Southern Eye Editorial
Almost each and every household in Zimbabwe, including those who claim to be loyal to a political party that has enjoyed monopoly of the airwaves since independence, owns the free-to-air decoders that carried the pirated signals.
Ordinary people, fed up with poor programming on the partisan ZBC, had resorted to watching the South African channels on Wiztech, Philibao, Fortec Star and Vivid decoders.
However, from Monday local viewers could no longer have access to SABC 1, 2 and 3 channels after the South African public broadcaster moved to comply with an outstanding court order.
In 2011, eTV Botswana approached the Gauteng High Court, seeking to order South Africa’s signal carrier Sentech to encrypt its signal, as it claimed piracy was affecting its audience ratings.
This was granted a year later. According to research, Zimbabwe has the highest signal piracy rate in Africa at 92%. Over the years Zimbabweans have been voting with their money acquiring these decoders that allow them to receive the pirated signals.
SABC channels had not only become a viable source of news on Zimbabwe, they also provided quality entertainment as evidenced by the popularity of soaps such as Generations and Muvhango.
A few also resorted to paying Digital Satellite Television (DStv) rather than subjecting themselves to Zanu PF propaganda and the general poor programming on ZBC. But how many can afford this luxury?
The cheapest DStv bouquet is $10, with the most expensive being $72.
In a country where the average salary is $250, it is clear that the blocking of the SABC signals will hit many poor Zimbabweans very hard.
It is estimated that three million Zimbabweans use the free-to-air decoders to access foreign channels. The ZBC mandarins and their handlers in Zanu PF could be rubbing their hands with glee at the latest developments, but it would be wise for them to learn from the way people have reacted.
It is quite clear that Zimbabweans are fed up with ZBC’s poor programming and given an alternative they will abandon the broadcaster at the slightest opportunity.
ZBC might be tempted to think it now has a captive audience, but the message is quite clear: Zimbabweans do not tolerate mediocrity. In an era of technological advancements, the Sentech move could be short-lived, but why should our people be forced to resort to illegal means to access information and entertainment programmes?