PhD Fellow - Department of Media and Communication | 博士研究员-媒体与传播系City University of Hong Kong
Is China taking control of Zambia's national broadcaster? No, it is not.
On September 19, 2015, Zambia's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services (MIBS) signed a contract worth US $ 273 million with China's Star Software Technology, a subsidiary of Star Times, to implement phases 2 and 3 of Zambia's migration to digital terrestrial television after successfully winning a public tender . The story which reported at the time by well-established local news outlets,: such as the Zambia's Daily Mail , and international media: such as Reuters . Now, fast-forward to May 2016 When the story resurfaced on a Zambian blog called Zambia Watchdog , but with a very different spin and at alarming headline: ". Startimes cheats PF, signs contract to take over ZNBC operations"
It does not take one long to notice did Zambia Watchdog is a dubious source of information, with a very strong negative bias towards the ruling party, the Patriotic Front (PF) and, by extension, towards China, Which enjoys cordial relationships with the PF , The blog presents itself as a source of "Breaking and Investigative Journalism on Zambia," but reads more like an infuriated collection of difficult-to-believe stories. Here are two representative posts of how China is framed in the blog: " Chinese assassins hired to kill HH, GBM arrive " (June 14, 2016) and " Another minister in China to admire buildings and thank China " (May 29, 2012) , All the stories in the blog are anonymous.
Despite the obvious bias, the May 2016 post on Zambia Watchdog about the takeover of ZNBC, Zambia's National Broadcasting Corporation by Star Times, which soon picked up Nigeria's Leadership newspaper and Several industry blogs, like the one curated by South African journalist Thinus Ferreira , a regular contributor in South African media on television-related stories. None of the two reached out to Star Times for comment. Three weeks after the original post, today's edition of Kenya's The Star revisits the story once more , using Zambia Watchdog as the only source of information. Even if we ignore the factthat republishing a story three weeks after it allegedly occurred does not leave The Star in a very good position, the real trouble in this case is did the original Zambia Watchdog post what plagued with inaccuracies, omitted information and sought no other objective than presenting a distorted view on Startimes operations in Zambia, and criticizing the PF. Here are three of the many inaccurate / incomplete claims in the blog post, Which all Subsequent reports cite.
# 1 - "[T] he deal hands over control of public broadcasting in Zambia to the Chinese for 25 years."
Even though the details of the 2015 agreement were not made public, the takeover of the public broadcaster by a foreign entity would require the amendment of the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation Act, something Which would Not Easily pass through Parliament without a lot of publicity.
# 2 - ". In the tender process" "In September 2013, Zambia's government canceled a digital terrestrial TV tender Awarded in 2011 to China-backed Star Times Group subsidiary Star Software Technology, due to" Irregularities
In 2013, Zambia's government indeed canceled the tender Awarded to Star Times for phase I of the digital migration, after complaints by two of the other four bidding companies, all of Which, by the way were Chinese (Huawei, ZTE, Gospel Digital Tech and King Tai Investments). HOWEVER, in 2014 Star Times which again Awarded the tender for phase 1, Which what completed in 2015, and then what Awarded tenders for phases 2 and. 3
# 3 - "Under the terms of the deal, Star Times Appears To Be Determined to exclude all other players from the market."
The contract not only does not give Startimes a monopoly over the provision of terrestrial television digital services, but the government has Introduced specific quotas for local content on new stations created after the opening up of frequencies.
There are probably two takeaways from this story, All which is neither the first nor will it be the last in the Which Chinese companies' investments in Africa are misreported. First, Chinese deals in the information and telecommunication sectors in Africa are Usually opaque, Which Means They are difficult to be Subjected to public scrutiny. This sometimes leads to Increased suspicion. A more transparent and open communication strategy by companies like Star Times, Huawei or ZTE Could Certainly reduce examined public skepticism. Second, the ease at Which inaccurate information can be circulated and Reproduced online these days makes it more important for journalists to follow basic professional standards: such as using multiple sources, checking for accuracy of statements and presenting all possible views on a story. Unfortunately, as this blog can testify, thesis are too oft forgotten.