There’s a new channel on the telly in Harare — all thanks to e.tv. But don’t expect Debora Patta to be giving Robert Mugabe the 3rd Degree any time soon.
As of May 1, state-run channel ZTV 2 launched a syndicated version of e.tv, which comes complete with local dramas such as Rhythm City, Scandal and 4Play, as well as international series and movies.
In the company’s new eAfrica offering — which has seen 12 other countries on the continent take up access to its 24-hour free-to-air programming — news bulletins are also part of the package. But the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) won’t be using that part of the deal on ZTV 2. It seems the government will keep control of its own news briefs, thank you very much.
ZBC TV spokesperson Sivukile Simango said the deal had been struck through a South African company called BlackBury, which provides content for ZTV 2. But both Simango and Vasili Vass, e.tv spokesperson in Johannesburg, declined to disclose how much ZBC will pay for the content.
It wasn’t so long ago that some viewers in Zimbabwe could tune into e.tv. But a few months ago, the frequency was scrambled; Vass says the signal was being pirated and so it had to be stopped.
The launch of the new channel has angered media rights activists, who have been exerting increasing pressure on the recently appointed Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe to issue licences to independent broadcasters.
Nhlanhla Ngwenya, head of media advocacy group Misa-Zimbabwe, said the only positive to come out of the e.tv deal was that Zimbabweans now had an alternative to the standard fare offered by ZBC.
But he criticised ZBC for cramming the new channel with foreign content.
“This is merely an extension of e.tv. While we do welcome an alternative, what we should be doing more is developing our own producers,” Ngwenya said.
He said ZBC has previously refused to pay local producers it commissioned and often censors programmes that it believes offer critical voices.
The Mail & Guardian asked e.tv how the channel felt about working with the Zimbabwean government broadcaster, known for providing viewers with a healthy dose of ZanuPF propaganda, considering that e.tv news crews had not been allowed into the country to cover elections in 2008.
“The provision of e.tv Africa in Zimbabwe is a business deal and has nothing to do with eNews and its position in Zimbabwe,” Vass responded in an email. Enough said.