Harare – The Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust’s(ZMMT) ambitious revitalisation plan for New Ziana, which runs the country’s official News Agency and community newspapers, will soon bear fruit as encouraging signs of the plan’s success are already showing.
Appearing before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information, Media, Broadcasting Services on Thursday, ZMMT deputy chairperson Tommy Sithole laid out the recovery plan for Zimbabwe’s official News Agency, and its Strategic Business Unit, the Community Newspapers Group, which has eight titles under it.
Already, as part of efforts to improve content quality, the ZMMT has secured the services of veteran Editors, Funny Mushava, Davison Maruziva and Fanwell Sibanda.
With the new trajectory that the ZMMT has set for New Ziana, Sithole said the green shoots of recovery were already showing with, for example, the improved work ethic and quality of the community newspapers.
“There was a lack of leadership for quite some time, there was not enough supervision especially in the provinces, but I would like to say honestly because of the dedication that is now being shown we have the core to start rebuilding New Ziana. We are re-building New Ziana and as difficult as it may be I think there is progress,” Sithole, who is also chairman of the Zimpapers board, said.
“There is certainly a little bit of brightness in them, there is more news about the provinces and more concentration about the activities of the local government in those areas and that is the route we are taking. However, this is not an easy task, because there is a need for financial and equipment injection.”
Sithole said New Ziana had fallen victim to technological advancements and a lack of capital, but plans were afoot to return the media giant to its former glory.
Once a leading source of credible local and international news, viability challenges caused by inadequate funding, slow adaptation to new media technologies and staff shortages have relegated New Ziana to the back-burner of Zimbabwe’s media industry.
“When technology was marching on, New Ziana was at a standstill. The plan now is to return the eight provincial newspapers to viability. It is going to be difficult but we think we can see a little bit of daylight at the end of the tunnel.
“We want to specifically provincialise the eight newspapers. We want to make sure that they are the voice of the people in that they print in the language of the areas they circulate. We want them concentrating on news about the regions or the provinces in which they circulate and if you have been receiving any of the newspapers in the provinces you will see that we have started on that path already,” he said.
Sithole said part of the revival plans included increasing the print run and giving them for free in order to popularise them but making money from advertising.
Sithole said the ZMMT was exploring several options to secure funding to operationalise its revival plan for New Ziana.
One of the options, he said, was leveraging New Ziana’s substantial portfolio of properties to secure loans for the business.
As for the News Agency, Sithole said strategic partnerships would be sought with global News Agencies for content sharing.
“With the network that we want to create, and the kind of news that we are going to be covering, we think there is a niche market for Ziana and that is only local, we also believe that there is a market out there for the news that we can generate from here,” he said.
Addressing the same committee, ZMMT executive secretary Ray Mungoshi said the ultimate aim of the turnaround strategy was to create a lean but efficient organisation.
For the community newspapers, for example, Mungoshi said each province would be manned by two reporters while leveraging on District Information Officers to secure additional content.
“We are not looking to replicate the old Ziana, which had maybe 100-150 reporters, we are looking to create a lean but very efficient organisation. At least two reporters per province should be able to produce enough content while the editing part will be done here in Harare. We are going to have a hub at the head office,” he said.
“The Ministry (of Information) has just recruited, I stand to be corrected, 70 District Information Officers, so we want to latch onto that and use the District Information Officers because we cannot be in every district.
“This is where we are going, this is the thinking. Hopefully in time when everything has come together and the system is working, we will also be able to produce newspapers in vernacular.”
Mungoshi said as part of the revitalisation of New Ziana, the company had unveiled a new publication, the Zimbabwe Year Book.
“This is a Strategic Business Unit that we want to grow, under that SBU we approach companies, entities, NGOs and profile their achievements over the course of the year,” he said.
Information Publicity and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary Nick Mangwana told the same committee that the government would not let New Ziana die and would support the ZMMT’s vision for the media outlet.
“From the government perspective, we are prepared to support the thrust which the trust (ZMMT) has and we also believe that in terms of devolution we cannot have a situation where we have community (radio) stations in communities but we do not have newspapers which the communities can identify with and whose content the community can relate to,” he said.
“We want to appreciate the inquiry into the operations of this emblematic outlet called New Ziana and we do not believe it should die. We believe in the thrust that the trustees want to take and that they should be supported by the policy makers and our Parliament.”
Member of the committee, former Information Minister Webster Shamu spoke in support for the availing of financial resources to New Ziana which has gone for over 10 years without receiving any capital injection.
“Why do we appoint a board without tools for it to go and produce a product yet we all know that for anything to be done there is need for money?” he queried.
According to the parastatal restructuring programme, New Ziana had been earmarked for absorption into the Information Ministry, but government changed course and opted instead to revive the ZMMT which was then charged with turning around the news organisation.
According to the ZMMT, New Ziana is saddled with statutory debts to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and NSSA.