Television Overview

There were around 400,000 television sets in Zimbabwe in 2007, according to the online database PressReference.

The state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) has an official monopoly of free-to-air terrestrial TV broadcasting.

However, viewers increasingly prefer to watch foreign channels beamed into the country by satellite.

According to the quarterly Zimbabwe All Media Products and Services (ZAMPS) survey, a research tool used by advertisers, less than half of all Zimbabwean TV viewers bothered to watch ZBC’s two channels in early 2011.

The first quarter 2011 ZAMPS survey indicated that 47% of urban Zimbabwean viewers watched satellite TV, whereas only 27% watched ZBC1, the main state TV channel.

ZBC has an official monopoly of radio and TV broadcasting in Zimbabwe.

It acts as a propaganda mouthpiece of President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party and vilifies their opponents.

Although ZANU-PF has shared power with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) since 2009, the state broadcaster gives scant coverage to MDC members of the government and their views.

ZBC broadcasts on two channels, but its recently re-launched second channel can only be received in Harare.

Poor reception, intermittent or non-existent power and low levels of disposable income ensure that TV is little watched in rural areas of Zimbabwe.

However, in urban areas, and in wealthier rural households, satellite TV is increasingly common.

Many Zimbabweans watch the bouquet of foreign channels that are available free of charge from the Wiztech satellite TV service. The only investment necessary is the purchase of a decoder.

Channels available free on Wiztech include the popular South African channels of SABC and, a movie channel, a documentary channel and two sports channels.

More affluent households subscribe to the pay TV services such as DSTV. These offer dozens of international TV channels and radio stations.

The full DSTV bouquet costs US$70 per month. This puts it out of the reach of most poor Zimbabweans.

There were about 20,000 fee-paying DSTV subscribers in Zimbabwe in 2011.

However, pirate connections, hacked decoders, shared subscriptions, and DSTV decoders in bars and clubs allow many more people to watch the international news and entertainment that it offers.

Zimbabweans are great sports fans and sports channels are very popular.

But there is also a strong appetite for serious news. Most people with a TV set try to watch television news in the evening.

Urban, educated Zimbabweans of all social classes follow international affairs and international news coverage of Zimbabwe keenly.

In 2002 rioting broke out in the poor townships of south Harare triggered by international television news coverage of the fall of President Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia.

Hundreds of poor young Zimbabweans hurled rocks at the police while shouting “Milosevic gone today, Mugabe gone tomorrow.”

No independent research has been conducted to assess the popularity of international broadcasters, but Al-Jazeera, BBC, and CNN are all well regarded for news.

Television was introduced in 1960 when Zimbabwe was still the British colony of Rhodesia.

During the period of white minority rule from the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 until the advent of internationally recognised independence under black majority rule in 1980, state-run Rhodesian Television, the forerunner of ZBC, was a notorious mouthpiece for the white minority government.

When Mugabe and ZANU-PF came to power, the authorities continued to use state television as a tightly controlled tool for government propaganda.

The national TV channel, ZBC1, broadcasts news and documentaries, music videos and a limited amount of bought-in drama shows.

Most of its programmes are in English, Shona and Ndebele. Some weekly programmes are broadcast in other minority languages.

ZBC launched a second channel in 1986, but this was privatised to become Joy TV in 1997.

The government closed down Joy TV in 2002, officially for failing to pay transmission fees.

However, it was well known that Joy TV’s editorial independence and its practice of rebroadcasting BBC news irked Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

ZBC launched a new second channel called ZBC2 in May 2010. However, this can only be received within 80 km radius of Harare. It has so far failed to attract a significant audience.

ZBC2 is a commercial channel that mainly airs entertainment and sports programmes. Many of these are bought in from South Africa’s

ZBC2 broadcasts mostly in English.