THE ruling Zanu PF, which thrives on a chokehold grip on airwaves to win elections by hook or crook, has emerged as the biggest winner in the controversial awarding of six new free-to-air licences to privately-owned television stations expected go live in Zimbabwe within the next 18 months, The NewsHawks has established.
This comes ahead of the 2023 general elections in which the media, especially the electronic broadcasting stations, will play a key role in the polls that may be a watershed in Zimbabwe’s turbulent transition from dictatorship to a much-yearned-for democratic dispensation.
Checks by The NewsHawks show that the majority, if not all, of the new licence holders are likely to operate in the shadows of the ruling party and government, which gave them the licences through a dodgy, yet seemingly professional and transparent process.
“The process in terms of its legality, framework and flow of inquiry was fairly professional, transparent and credible, but clearly there was political interference and manipulation,” a Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) senior official said.
“The awarding of the licences or the winners do not reflect our professional inquiry and recommendations. There was some interference for personal, political and commercial reasons.
“Surely, how can companies without any background and experience in media be given licences ahead of those with solid credentials? It doesn’t make sense at all.”
The six applicants awarded licences include Zimpapers Television Network (ZTN), a subsidiary of the state-controlled media group Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) Ltd, the military-run Nkululeko Rusununguko Media (Pvt) Ltd — trading as NRTV, Dzimbahwe — behind Channel D, Jester Media trading as 3K TV, Acacia Media Group — operating as Kumba TV and Fairtalk Communications — which owns Ke Yona TV.
Joining the state-run ZBC TV — a Zanu PF propaganda machine — the new six TV licence holders are mostly linked to the ruling party and its government by political, business and personal associations and circumstances.
However, sources told The NewsHawks that there is no guarantee that after getting the licences the media groups will raise enough capital and roll out their operations in such a struggling economy and market within 18 months.
“Getting licences through such a rigged process is one thing, establishing a viable operation in this difficult environment is quite another,” an experienced Zimbabwean broadcaster in South Africa said.
“Some of these projects are unlikely to take off. The economic environment is hostile, unstable and unpredictable.
“In this digital era, there are so many other content creation and delivery options. Starting a TV channel from scratch in Zimbabwe might prove to be very difficult. The capital outlays may be prohibitive.
“I have been involved in setting up radio and TV stations in South Africa and elsewhere for a long time. Radio is cheap to establish and run, but TV is another issue; TV stations have four main cost centres – content creation, distribution, marketing and staff. These are highly dependent on the model. TV channels make money mainly through advertising and subscriptions. If you create your own content there are also rights to sell, but then even established channels like BBC and others make less than 10% of their revenue through rights sales.
“In a market like Zimbabwe, it is hard to make much out of ad sales. To get good subscriptions, you need compelling content which is expensive to produce.
“However, digital technology has reduced the cost of content production and distribution significantly. But then again to make money one has to have a huge audience and produce good content. So TV is not a joke.”
The other issue raised by sources is that while linked to officialdom, the new TV stations might not slavishly toe the Zanu PF line as widely expected feared and seek to push the envelope.
Since the new licence holders are privately-owned entities, they may also have their own operational agency and competing interests to chart independent editorial courses as shown by private radio stations licenced under similar circumstances.
A nuanced analysis of the radio stations’ editorial policies shows that although they have serious restrictions on how they cover issues they also try to create room for manoeuvre for professional, commercial and other reasons.
ZiFM, owned by AB Communications whose main shareholder is former minsiter and Zanu PF MP Supa Mandiwanzira and Skyz Metro FM, run by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission member Qhubani Moyo and Fairtalk Communications in collaboration with the army, are cases in point.
Although they are constrained by their birth circumstances, sometimes they try to break free to operate in an impartial and balanced way in their coverage of issues acting in their own interests, except on hot political and corruption issues involving political bigwigs, especially President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his cronies.
Mandiwanzira, dropped out of cabinet by Mnangagwa after the elections in 2018, was denied a TV licence despite his company having a strong media background and experience compared to several other winners like Rusununguko, Acacia and Dzimbahwe.
During the 2018 elections, ZiiFM – which has a liberal editorial policy – embraced different and competing political parties and diverse voices in its programmes, taking a political risk in the process.
Skyz Metro also gave a voice to different and marginalised groups, capturing diversity and pluralism in its coverage. Some of its presenters also took a huge risk trying to stretch their editorial independence.
Although ZTN has been operating during its preparations with a relatively neutral and balanced editorial policy, it remains highly exposed and vulnerable to political pressures and interference as its parent company, Zimpapers, is a playground for Zanu PF and government politicians.
Despite their best intentions and efforts, their editorial independence remain compromised and endangered by political pressure.
Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) publisher Trevor Ncube and his online Heart & Soul broadcasting platform were also denied a TV licence despite him currently being Mnangagwa’s adviser in the Presidential Advisory Council after his open and loud support for the 2017 military coup that brought his principal to office.
Even if Ncube is now operating within Mnangagwa’s circles and under his shadows, AMH editorial has remained fairly independent – courtesy of editors who resisted supporting the coup and compromising editorial independence and professional ethics in the process despite unrelenting, systematic and sustained pressure from the publisher desperate to curry favour with the regime for political and commercial reasons.
Besides, AMH, like AB Communications, has a solid media background and experience which positioned it well to secure licence unlike the other winners.
Shareholding and ultimately licences issues loomed large during the process. Only one winner – Zimpapers – did not have shareholding controversy over it.
But there were shareholding questions around Acacia, D Channel, Rusununguko, Fairtalk and Jester Media. Starting with Fairtalk, until recently, Moyo ran Skyz Metro FM under Fairtalk through a 2014 agreement between StyleStorm Communications, a Ministry of Defence entity represented by former Defence permanent secretary Martin Rushwaya, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s relative and now deputy chief secretary (administration and finance) in the Office of President and Cabinet, and his own entity Mighty Sounds.
Skyz Metro and its sister radio station Breeze FM in Victoria Falls both ran under that partnership.
However, Rusununguko and Fairtalk applied for TV licences differently and have now gone separate ways.
This issue first came out during the Baz inquiry.
Leader of Rusununguko team during the presentations Sugar Chagonda said the two companies were no longer working together.
Moyo also said the same.
Documents obtained by The NewsHawks from Baz this week show Rusununguko and Fairtalk agreed to go separate ways in their bid for TV licences.
A letter, dated 4 September 2020, written by Fairtalk board secretary Mandlenkosi Khumalo to company chairman Jahalamajaha Noble Malunguza, titled Withdrawal of Rusununguko Nkululeko Holdings (RNH) interest in the Fairtalk Communications (Pvt) Ltd application, shows that.
“Chairperson sir, I write to you with respect to the subject above,” Khumalo says.
“On 3 September 2020 I received some communication from Dr. Qhubani Moyo in his capacity as shareholder of Mighty Sounds. He sought clarification as regards the interest of RNH in the Fairtalk Communications TV application. Specifically, he stated that it had come to his attention that RNH had made a separate TV application, trading as Rusununguko Media, and were shortlisted for the public interviews. To this end, he explained that there were now queries being raised and complications since the regulatory authorities expressed concern over RNH having propriety interests in two TV applications. This status quo placed both RNH and Fairtalk Communications in serious jeopardy of losing out on the TV applications.”
Khumalo says consultations subsequently ensued and an amicable agreement was reached to go separate ways.
“In response, I consulted the chief executive officer of RNH Maj. Gen. (John) Mupande and narrated the position of Mighty Sounds as chronicled by Dr. Q Moyo.
“Following discussions, Maj. Gen. Mupande directed that RNH interests in the Fairtalk Communications TV application be withdrawn in order to insulate Rusunguko Media from Fairtalk Communications.”
Khumalo goes on to explain the meaning and implication of the decision by the two companies to go separate ways.
“Chairperson, the implications of this development means that the partnership between StyleStorm and Mighty Sounds does not extend to the TV application, but is limited to the radio project. “Meanwhile, the shareholders of Mighty Sounds will be writing to the relevant statutory and regulatory bodies notifying them of this development. Be guided accordingly.”
Acacia is fronted by Sharon Mugabe, whose ex-partner is former Zanu PF MP and deputy minister Bright Matonga. Mugabe, a Zanu PF member, was previously associated with KISS FM which failed secure a licence.
Although its shareholding structure is unclear, Acacia’s licence application was underwritten by DBF Capital Partners, linked to Mnangagwa’s close associate banker Douglas Munatsi.
While Munatsi, now chief executive of Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency (Zida), is a founder member of DBF (the “D”stands for Douglas, “B” for Bekithemba Moyo and “F” for Francis Dzanya), last night he said he had quit the partnership in March.
“No I am not involved in that (Acacia). I am fully employed by Zida. I took my leave in March and if you want information on that you should contact DBF which has a local director,” Munatsi said.
Rusununguko’s shareholding in this case is also opaque as it now reportedly involves a Zanu PF linked prominent local businessman who has headed 11 different companies.
Questions were also raised over Jester Media Services which is owned by Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) main shareholder Jethro Goko.
First, there were public questions on how Jester got the licence as a company associated with a private newspaper that was in the past highly critical of Zanu PF and government. People also wanted to know who Jester shareholders were or indeed who ANZ owners now are, with Harare resident minister Oliver Chidawu’s name linked to the private media group.
ANZ flagship newspaper, Daily News, furiously rejected the link in an angry editorial on Wednesday.
It also today denied association with Zanu PF linked tycoon, Kuda Tagwirei after Zim-Morning Post claimed it was in the pocket of the businessman close to Mnangagwa.
Documents, however, show who the legal owners of Jester, ANZ and their associated company Meditation and other structures are.
Jester, registered in 1993, is owned by Goko and his wife Ester. Jester is derived from Jethro and Ester.
Jethro owns 76%, while Ester owns 24%.
Jester, which used to publish magazines in the 1990s, owns Meditation 100%; a vehicle through which Goko holds 50% of the ANZ, publishers of Daily News and Daily News on Sunday.
The other ANZ shareholders include Africa Media Investments which has 32%, institutional investors (Diamond Insurance, Southern Life Association, Intermarket, Batarai Capital Finance and NDM Investments with a total of 17%) and Doctor Alli Mohamed, as well as the late Judith Todd with 1%.
Mediation, which also applied for a TV licence as Goko tried to hedge his bets, then in turn owns Modus Media (formerly Modus Publications), publishers of the Financial Gazette.
Investigations show Chidawu was initially associated with ANZ as his company Heritage Insurance provided the media group with insurance cover upon its return in 2010 after being bombed and closed in 2003 by government through Capital Insurance Brokers.
Claims that Chidawu is a new shareholder in ANZ have been dismissed, but remain still untested and thus lingering on even if official documents clearly show who owns the media company.
Dzimbahwe’s shareholding is even more murkier.
Officially, the shareholding structure given during the Baz presentation process is as follows:
. MIM Family Trust 40%;
. An unnamed SPV 20%;
. Kumuora Resources 10%;
. Timothy Musara 10%;
. Directors’ Share Scheme 10%; and
. Employees Shares Trust 10%.
Investigations by The NewsHawks came up with a different structure which shows D Channel TV is significantly owned by its chief executive Morelife Mapeture with 25%; 26% a spooky special purpose vehicle (SPV) and associates; and a number of entities and individuals who include an employees Trust, directors’ scheme, Dr MG Chirisa, Hazel Masvanhise, Tariro Makanga, Timothy Musara, Shadreck Mupeni, Faith Mafukidze and Happiness Muchechetere.
Mapeture last night said: “MIM Family Trust holds 27%, Chirisa Family Trust 7%, directors share scheme 1%, employees share trust 5%, then there are a number of people and companies numbering 26, with 11%. These include Happison Muchechetere with 1% and a company called Cosa Nostra which has nine women.
“And 49% is held in an SPV, which will be sold to the public.”
With the new licences shrouded in controversy and their holders under the spotlight, their editorial policies and coverage would always be monitored and scrutinised, which may end up pressuring them to perform better or realising they have got poisoned chalices.