DATE: 9 MAY 2019
VENUE: MONOMOTAPA HOTEL, HARARE
(Attended by Dzikamai Bere and Farirai Sibanda)
1. PROFILE OF PARTICIPANTS
The report launch was attended by at least twenty-seven (27) participants. Participants were from the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Baker Tilly Zimbabwe, the Sunday Times, NewsDay, Tell Zim News, The Standard, The Herald, the Internet Society, the Digital Society of Zimbabwe, Pasaka, Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations, Enthuse Zimbabwe and the Media Centre.
2. OBJECTIVES OF THE MEETING
The purpose of the event was to launch two MISA reports namely:
a) Beyond a Click: Regional assessment on the state of digital rights in Southern Africa.
b) Digital Terrestrial Television Migration in Zimbabwe: Challenges and Opportunities.
3. DIGITAL TERRESTRIAL TELEVISION MIGRATION IN ZIMBABWE
The report launch started with a presentation on the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Migration in Zimbabwe report by Engineer Cloud Nyamundanda. The purpose of this report was to give a better understanding of what has been done in terms of digitization, how much is left and how much is expected to be spent on the project. The benefits of DTT Migration were outlined as follows:
- Good picture quality
- More players accommodated
- Great demand for local content producers
- Cost per service lower enhancing profitability
- Great youth empowerment tool through installation, servicing and distribution of Set top boxes (STBs)
It was said that the success of this migration depends on factors such as:
- STB availability and affordability
- Exciting content
- Extensive consumer awareness programs
- Consumer buy in
A breakdown of the DTT migration status in Zimbabwe was also given and from it the presenter observed that Zimbabwe has done a lot in terms of putting the infrastructure necessary for the digital migration process in place. It was said that:
- The uplink facility for signal distribution has been commissioned
- The head end is in place
- The Pockets Hill Studio has been digitalised
- Seventeen (17) backbone transmitter sites have been equipped to date
- Eight (8) gap filler towers have been constructed and other gap filler towers are at various construction levels.
It was said that there is currently too much emphasis on the construction process and not enough focus on what will happen after the construction. As a result of this there is construction being done in remote areas and not so much in urban areas, a situation which seems peculiar just to Zimbabwe. In comparison other countries such as Zambia started with construction in urban and more populated areas then went to the remote areas and constructed fewer structures there to cater for the low population. There was also an observation that not enough is being done in terms of STB distribution in preparation for migration. Other STB issues in Zimbabwe currently were said to be:
- There is no policy on STB subsidy
- There is no policy on distribution, installation and servicing of STBs
- There is no specified level that DTT penetration must reach for analogue switch off
Comparisons were done to compare the progress of Zimbabwe in DTT migration to other countries in the region. It was observed that Zimbabwe is lagging behind as the only country that has not started transmitting. In terms of the budgets of how much will be spent on the migration process Zimbabwe is set to spend about US$142 million but this amount seems to be fluctuation with government reporting that more money is needed. On the other hand South Africa is set to spend about US$650million, Zambia will spend US$273millon and Botswana will spend US$19 million, the varying amounts depend on the population as well as how the process is being rolled out in the different countries.
Recommendation were then made to improve the way this process is being carried out, these recommendations include:
- Having STB subsidy framework
- Having structured training of STB installers as youth empowerment tool
- Quality controls for STB, IDTVs, antennae
- Vigorous and visible consumer awareness campaigns
- Dual illumination guidelines
- Cost and pricing framework for multiplex and transmission charges
- Two thirds of DTT budget should be spent on awareness and content generation
- Clarity on when analogue will be switched off
- Pricing must not be an impediment for new players
4. REGIONAL ASSESSMENT ON STATE OF DIGITAL RIGHTS – SOUTEHRN AFRICA
This report was limited to the sixteen SADC member states. Emphasis was placed on the fact that digital rights are no really new right per e but rather the same rights availed to people under domestic and international laws which must be enjoyed online as well. In essence digital rights were defined as human rights enjoyed online. This report revealed that there is generally an upward trend in terms of violations of digital rights in the SADC region. Of all the SADC countries, only South Africa is consider to be free in terms of enjoyment of digital rights.
In this region only two countries have cyber laws which regulate enjoyment of digital rights in the SADC region. Further most of the SADC countries have no data protection laws in place. In terms of internet freedom in SADC only South Africa is considered free. This means that there are various obstacles to access to the internet and obstacles is limitation of content which impede enjoyment of internet and often lead to violation of digital rights. Within the first quarter of 2019, two African Countries had complete internet shutdowns. Further in the last five years twenty-two (22) African countries had internet shutdowns and 77% of these countries are considered as having authoritarian governments. What is worrying is that almost half of the Southern African countries are expected to have elections this year and looking at the trends this will most likely lead to more violations of digital rights and internet shutdowns. The role of journalists in the digital rights sphere is being curtailed and they are being assaulted in a bid to keep them quiet which is another worrying development particularly in countries with impending elections.
Southern Africa currently has the highest mobile internet penetration rate in Africa, however this region also has the slowest growing penetration rates and this region has the least number of subscribers. The trends show that despite this high penetration rate, the penetration is mainly among young affluent people that live in urban areas with a bias towards men as opposed to women. These digital divides must be closed to ensure enjoyment of digital rights by all. Another worrying trend is that the Southern Africa region is one of the most highly taxed regions in terms of telecommunication. The high cost of data also impedes enjoyment of digital rights. It was said that it is important to contextualise when comparing the cost of data because regardless of the actual cost if data costs above 2% per gigabyte of the average income then it is too expensive. In Zimbabwe the threshold cost is about 11% per gigabyte of the average income.
Recommendations made were that:
- SADC must ratify and localise international legislation that encourage enjoyment of digital rights
- National internet governance should be operational and capacitated
- Development of strong institutions to protect enjoyment of digital rights
- Need for political will and advocacy
- Independent mechanisms for monitoring enjoyment of digital rights
- States must refrain from internet shutdowns
- Ensure promotion of digital rights
- Awareness, advocacy and research
- Protection of rights of the media so that journalists are able to report and ensure accountability
The last session of the report launch was a feedback session where participants gave feedback and asked questions regarding the two presentation. It was observed that there is a problem with the way the digitalisation process is being carried in Zimbabwe in that BAZ which is supposed to be regulating the process is actually driving the process. This means that there is a break in the chain in terms of accountability as there is essentially no regulator. The reasons for this seem to be political and this is problematic. This problem is also an issue when it comes to accountability in terms of how much is being spent in the process. It was suggested that as stakeholders participants may reach out to Members of Parliament to take the matter up in Parliament to raise questions about accountability in this project. It was said that stakeholders need to take more initiative to ensure they are involved in the process instead of allowing government to lead the discussion. It was also said that with the way the migration process is being carried out there is no expected date of when the process will be finished. The licensing laws in Zimbabwe may also act as an impediment for new players in broadcasting which will limit content. There is need to address issues of taxation, corruption and the ease of doing business in Zimbabwe to encourage international players in the broadcasting sector. There was a concern raised on the issue of content, it appears there is currently nothing being done to ensure there are improvements in terms of content creation for platforms so that the migration process is successful.