NATIONAL broadcaster the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) seems to have risen from the dead.
The ongoing cleansing ceremony, instigated by the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, which has seen top management falling by the wayside and fresh minds coming in, seems to be paying off.
Last week, the institution started paying off its debts, which went as far back as more than a year ago.
More targeted at artistes and the suppliers of content for the broadcaster, the payments are meant to patch up relations that had all but crumbled between ZBC and the creative sector.
The national broadcaster is racing against time as the deadline for digital migration is fast approaching.
Zimbabwe is required to migrate from the current analogue broadcasting technology to the digital broadcasting technology by June 17, 2015, in accordance with the migration deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union.
Upon successful implementation of digital migration — ZBC will become a multi-channel entity, with more than the two channels it currently has.
Acting chief executive officer Mr Patrick Mavhura, who has captained the ZBC ship for close to two months now, hinted that the organisation could start with at least six stations.
Should this come to fruition, the stations will need a considerable amount of local content.
“At the moment we have not yet agreed, so this is not formal yet, but we were planning to have at least six channels. So getting as much content as we can is very important right now as we need to stock up as much as possible,” said Mavhura.
He said that the company will be meeting several other stakeholders this week, including independent film producers and members of the Zimbabwe Film Industry.
Said Mavhura: “These are efforts to re-engage all stakeholders. Over the past two years we had serious financial constraints, but now we have pledged and are going to pay the full amount that we owe the artistes.”
Mavhura says after paying off the debts, which he expects to be done by end of February, the company will ensure that the artistes are paid “timeously” for the content they bring in.
So far, ZBC has disbursed more than US$20 000 and is planning to pay out more towards payment of the more immediate US$84 000 it owes to its content creators.
But how is the ZBC raising this money? Is the Government involved?
“We are making several efforts to pay off these debts. Recently we partnered with Zinara (Zimbabwe National Road Administration) for collection of licence fees and there are several other fundraising techniques that we have employed.
“Government will come in later, of course, to deal with the cost of digital migration itself, but the debts and acquisition of content is solely our responsibility,” said Mavhura.
The acting chief executive said ZBC was engaging all stakeholders and holding workshops and seminars to ensure that “everyone is on board” as the national broadcaster attempts to win back its content suppliers, advertisers and viewers.
Several artistes who supplied content to ZBC and are still owed monies, confirmed to The Sunday Mail Leisure that they began receiving part of their payments last week.
Vusa Dzimwasha, an actor, confirmed that not only him but several other artistes were having a surprisingly different January this year.
“Most artistes had almost given up on getting paid by ZBC, especially after their well-publicised financial problems. This is quite a surprise and it has definitely injected some energy and positivity into our new year,” said Dzimwasha.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Arts and Culture Industry Association (ZACIA) has commended efforts by ZBC, saying relations which had become frosty over the past few years would now begin to thaw.
“Over the past few years the relations between the national broadcaster and the artistes were strained and the working environment was almost unbearable for the artistes engaged by ZBC for specific services in their different genres due to the then late payments,” said ZACIA president Boniface Chimedza.
Formed in 2013, ZACIA is an arts and culture association whose primary objective is to protect and promote the Zimbabwean artistes, “from all artistic genres, through securing their future and welfare, by taking definite, positive and measurable steps towards fully establishing their artistic careers”.
According to Chimedza, artistes through ZACIA have managed to create a better working relationship with the ZBC.
“This has given both the ZBC and the artistes a brighter and better future, which is likely to see the quality of programmes on the national broadcaster’s channels improving dramatically,” said Chimedza.
He added: “Digital migration efforts by ZBC are sure and the national broadcaster’s commitment towards the same is serious. This is a welcome development.
“Both ZBC and the artistes renewed their commitment to engage and work in harmony – producing quality programmes, which the nation and people of Zimbabwe will be proud of. The national broadcaster underwent serious financial challenges over the past few years and that had a boomerang effect on its stakeholders; who include Zimbabwean artistes.”
Chimedza says all artistes are to sign contracts upon their engagement with ZBC at whatever level.
“The payments to artistes will be done faster and plans are underway by ZACIA to ensure that all artistes receive their payments through their bank accounts.”
ZACIA is the only association in Zimbabwe representing all artistic genres.
The artistic genres represented by the association include Film Producers, Film Directors, Scriptwriters, Actors, Presenters, Dancers, Musicians, Sculptors, Painters, Photographers, Models and Weavers, to name just a few.
License fees are rumoured to face increase, to tend to the channels