MISA Laments BAZ Confusion

“The legal status of the current BAZ is mired in confusion,” read a statement. “This makes inevitable, the need for the repeal of the existing repressive Broadcasting Services Act and its replacement with a democratic law in line with regional and international instruments on broadcasting.”

“It is against this background that MISA-Zimbabwe seeks clarity and transparency in the regulation of the broadcasting sector to allow for the proliferation of private broadcasters to enhance access to information for the generality of the Zimbabwean population. MISA –Zimbabwe calls for the clarity on the legal status of BAZ so that aspiring broadcasters are clear on which board to approach for broadcasting licenses.”

BAZ is a board established under the Broadcasting service Act (BSA) of Zimbabwe to regulate all broadcasting services in Zimbabwe. Since the enactment of the BSA in 2001, BAZ only called for applications once in 2005, but failed to issue a single license to prospective private broadcasters who had submitted applications, leaving the state’s broadcasting monopoly over Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation to continue.

MISA-Zimbabwe said it was guided by the African Charter on Broadcasting in its emphasis on the need for transparency in the appointment and composition of BAZ.

In terms of the law the president has the discretion to appoint nine nominees submitted by representative groups such as churches, legal practitioners and accountants following a call for nominations by the Minister. The president makes the other three appointments from a list of six nominees submitted by a parliamentary committee.

In September 2009, the Ministry of Information unprocedurally appointed BAZ. A Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting in Namibia tasked the shaky coalition government to reconstitute the board. It was agreed that the Information Ministry and a parliamentary committee would be responsible for that reconstitution but this has still not happened.

Misa Zimbabwe’s statements follows the publication of a notice published in the weekly, The Sunday Mail last Decemberin which BAZ called for diffusion and webcasting service providers to register their operations with it this year saying it had the legality to demand fees and license of their operations.

The announcement implied that banks, hotels, hospitals, nursing homes and other business operators with diffusion services were required to register. The call also extended to broadcasting of pre-recorded programmes for reception by passengers of railway service, transport operators, i.e. railcasting and roadcasting.

Diffusion service is defined under the BSA as including the dissemination of information by means of any conducting medium of the whole or any part of writing, signs, signals, pictures, impulses or sounds broadcast by a broadcasting service; or of music, speech, pictures or other data for information, education or entertainment purposes by means of any conducting medium connected to two or more items of apparatus specifically designed for the reproduction of sound, pictures or data; or of teletext and vertical blanking intervals.

Roadcasting as defined under the BSA refers to the broadcasting of pre-recorded programmes for reception by passengers of any public service vehicle as defined in the Road Traffic Act [Chapter 13:11], while railcasting means the broadcasting of pre-recorded programmes for reception by passengers of any railway service.

The Act also defines webcasting as a computer-mediated broadcasting service.

In the notice, BAZ emphasized the definition of a broadcasting service under the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) as meaning “any service which delivers television or radio programmes to persons having equipment appropriate for receiving that service.”

The registration fees vary from US$3000 for transport operators to US$9000 for programme providers annually. Webcasters will be required to fork out US$1000.00 non-refundable application fee and US$18000in license fees for the webcasting service.

BAZ also advised that it will be receiving the applications throughout the year and warned that it was illegal for any person to provide any service that falls within the broadcasting definition without a permission granted by it.