In a rather disappointing “Landmark” ruling, the state controlled public broadcaster has been empowered to demand licence fee from anyone who owns a gadget that can receive TV or Radio frequency in Zimbabwe.
The ruling was made yesterday, by the apex in two cases by Bernard Wekare and Musangano Lodge challenging the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Broadcasting Services Act (Chapter 12;06) on funding of public broadcasting services.
The ruling now means the licensing can even be extended to anyone who has a gadget, be it smart phone, tablet or connected laptop which has a capacity to receive the UHF TV or FM and SW radio frequency
The law still remains controversial since it only allows ZBC to benefit directly from the collection of licence fee, while other private players do not benefit, making it a right for the public broadcaster to receive fees for a service millions are not even watching or listening to.
Today in Zimbabwe almost every household has a satellite dish decorder to receive other foreign stations in the wake of poor content and delivery under the state broadcaster.
Zimbabweans would have welcomed a move that forces ZBC to encrypt its signals during the digitalization period which then blocks anyone free access, instead of forcing people to pay, when they are not accessing the service.
Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba dismissed both applications on the grounds that it was clear the law obligated citizens to pay the fees as long as they were in possession of TV and radio signal receivers.
According to the Herald, Wekare and Musangano Lodge are facing criminal charges for contravening the Broadcasting Services Act.In the case of Wekare, he was found in possession of a television set without a licence at his home. He was on July 5 2012 charged in a magistrate’s court for possession of a receiver without a licence.
The allegation was that being a listener in possession of a receiver, he failed to produce a valid licence in terms of a notice served on him in terms of Zimbabwe’s broadcasting laws.
He admitted the charge, but raised a defence that the provisions of the Act he was charged under were constitutionally invalid. He requested his case to be referred to the apex court to determine the constitutionality of the relevant provisions of the Act in a bid to escape conviction.
Musangano Lodge was arraigned before a magistrate’s court in Mutare facing similar charges and raised the same defence.
However, the full bench of the Constitutional Court held in each case that the provision of the Act being challenged did not contravene the fundamental human right enshrined in the relevant provision of the Constitution.