Africa

1st TV to the rescue after Zim loses SABC signal

Stuart Thembisile Lewis

For Zimbabweans who have lamented the loss of the SABC signal north of the border, a new independent voice has been launched as elections approach.

A new independent voice has been launched in Zimbabwe. (AFP)

New free-to-air satellite TV channel, 1st TV, says it aims to bring an independent voice to Zimbabwe's almost entirely state-owned broadcasting sector.

With just over two weeks to go until the Zimbabwean elections, a new free-to-air TV station will be hitting airwaves within the country on Friday. Billed as Zimbabwe's "first independent television station", 1st TV will be broadcast by satellite into the country and will be available on the Wiztech free-to-air decoders.

Devices such as the Wiztech have been widely used by Zimbabweans to access international radio and television broadcasts. Up until very recently, most of the traffic has been owned by South African channels but unencrypted access to these was cut off earlier this month.

South African signal carrier Sentech was issued with a court order in early 2011 instructing it to encrypt access to SABC 1, 2 and 3 to prevent the channels from being pirated across the border. The order came out of litigation by eBotswana, sister channel to South Africa's e.tv, attempting to limit illegal competition within Botswana's borders.

Sentech finally complied with the order and started encrypting at the beginning of July 2013. Zimbabweans, who were able to watch the unencrypted SABC channels through Philibao free-to-air decoders, were consequently deprived of access to non-ZBC channels.

ZBC (the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation) is state-owned and has a monopoly on airwaves in the country. Its content has been criticised as pro-Zanu-PF propaganda by many Zimbabweans. ZBC only competes with two other commercial radio stations owned by a businessperson within the ruling party and the state-owned Herald newspaper, respectively.

Influence and guide the channel
The station said it aims to fill the gap vacated by the SABC channels with "impartial, factual news" as well as popular films and television shows. If successful, the channel has a massive audience waiting for it. 

Research conducted in 2011 as part of the Zimbabwe all media and products' surveys showed there are three-million decoders in the country. The majority of these are free-to-air decoders, which will be able to receive 1st TV's broadcasts.

1st TV also intends to have a large social media presence, which they hope will allow ordinary Zimbabweans to influence and guide the channel.

The team behind the new channel include former ZBC producer-presenter Temba Hove, Short Wave Radio Violet Gonda and executive producer Andrew Chadwick, formerly of Sky News.

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