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There has been no change of Government policy in barring foreign ownership of broadcasting licences in terms of the Broadcasting Services Act, Acting Minister of Information and Publicity Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana said last week.

Mangwana told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications that there appeared to be confusion on the provisions of the Act pertaining to the restrictions on foreign funding. The minister was presenting oral evidence on the state of the public media.

Mangwana said the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) had made submissions to the Government in which it proposed some amendments pertaining to the management of the Act.

"I told them (BAZ) that there was no change by the Government on foreign ownership of licences. There has been some misunderstanding in terms of the provisions on foreign funding," he said.

The Act, Mangwana said, prohibited foreign ownership of broadcasting licences but did not restrict the borrowing of funds.

Mangwana said applications for private broadcasting licences that had been lodged with BAZ in the past had been turned down because they did not satisfy the provisions of the Act and this was mainly due to ignorance on the part of the applicants. Some applicants also did not disclose the source of funding as stipulated in the Act.The minister said there was need for a public debate on the Act for a better understanding of its provisions.

Chairperson of the committee Leo Mugabe, who is Makonde lawmaker (Zanu-PF), said the Act should be amended in order to create a conducive environment as there were problems on its adjudication.

Mugabe said there was need for BAZ to advertise again for new applications from prospective broadcasters.

In response, Mangwana said if Zimbabweans could invest in farming and mining, they could also likewise invest in the broadcasting sector without foreign funding.

He would liaise with BAZ on the issue of flighting advertisements inviting broadcasting applicants.

Tsholotsho legislator Professor Jonathan Moyo said even if one were to get a radio or television licence it would be impossible to transmit due to the absence of transmitters.

Prof Moyo, who is the former Minister of Information and Publicity, said it was prudent for private broadcasters to be allowed to provide their own transmission equipment.

Mangwana said he would look into the issue of the possibility of allowing private broadcasters to install their own transmitters.

Government, he said, had taken a number of steps in implementing recommendations made by the committee in regard to the public media and these included the restructuring of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH) and New Ziana.

He said a new ZBH board was now in place while recruitment of the group chief executive officer was underway.

Mangwana said ZBH was working towards digitalisation and refurbishment of the four radio stations and negotiations on the project with an Iran firm were at an advanced stage.

He assured the committee that there would be "minimum losses" of employment resulting from the restructuring programme.

Turning to New Ziana, Mangwana said he would soon be announcing a new board for the news agency.

He said the agency was strategic to the extent that it should continue to receive Government grants until it was in a position to sustain itself together with the Community Newspapers Group.

Government, Mangwana said, had seen it fit to transfer the proposed New Ziana radio station that would be based in Gweru to ZBH.

He said funds had been availed for the shortwave radio station that was meant to counter propaganda by hostile media organisations, Studio 7 included, by telling the true Zimbabwean story.

The minister also said the issue of Studio 7 broadcasting to Zimbabwe from Botswana was being handled diplomatically through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Herald