ZBC: Wrong diagnosis, wrong prescription


Former ZBC CEO Happison Muchechetere

THE careworn Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) has contributed about 400 workers to the nearly 20 000 who have lost their jobs since last month’s infamous Supreme Court ruling giving employers authority to terminate worker’s employment contracts upon giving them three months’ notice.
This makes ZBC one of those companies with the highest retrenchment figures as government is fast-tracking a prompt review of the Labour Act to try and pacify disgruntled unions.
For ZBC, its spirited jump on the retrenchment bandwagon has been viewed by many as a clear testimony that the public broadcaster has completely lost the plot.
Some 282 workers got their marching orders last week, 77 more dismissal letters were dispatched to workers enjoying a weekend out: Drivers who were tasked with that delivery, it is reported, followed the workers even to the bars and churches.
The job had to be done and no letter was to return, so went the instruction.
Still many more heads are set to roll.
In justifying the action, ZBC board chairman, Gibson Munyoro, said they were getting rid of “non-essential staff” yet, sources at the broadcaster said aside from canteen and cleaning staff — which was wholly purged — the dismissal had no criteria.
“It was just random. Names were just called out and you are gone. Just like that,” said one worker who survived the chop this week.
It must be noted, beforehand, that retrenchments at the State broadcaster have been in the pipeline for close to a year now; or at least since revelations of a bloated workforce were given by international audit firm, KPMG, which was tasked by government to carry an audit of ZBC books and also advise a turnaround strategy.
In fact, ZBC’s then 1 000-strong workforce had been unsure of its future ever since former information, media and broadcasting services minister, Jonathan Moyo, told Parliament that many would be shown the door at the end of the audits.
What raises eyebrows is the haphazard manner in which the current retrenchment exercise was undertaken, which clearly is against the recommendations of the KPMG audit report.
KPMG observed in its report that there was a nagging, redundant and taxing staff compliment at ZBC, which, without any proper skills, spent precious working hours perambulating its corridors and hallways.
That compliment was untouchable and, according to the former minister Moyo, it enjoyed the lion’s share of the payroll.
“There are a lot of people at ZBC who should not be there for different reasons and the result is that they are rewarded more than the others for the simple reason that they should not be there,” Moyo told Parliament then.
Departed and current workers blame the previous board and management for staffing the broadcaster with their relatives and friends who hardly ever worked.
Others, they said, had no clear job descriptions.
But when time came for the chop, information gathered by the Financial Gazette suggests that the KPMG report was thrown away and the public broadcaster resorted to a “random rapid fire” approach to things.
There are indications that the majority of the fired employees were those with the requisite qualifications and skills for their jobs, which naturally means those accused of securing jobs through the backdoor have remained, which then leads one to question whether this move was at all motivated by the desire to turnaround the dwindling fortunes of the broadcaster, or not.
“What ZBC needed was a fair retrenchment exercise, but fairness is alien to these people. It is the ordinary worker who has been sacrificed for wrongdoings of those in control because they can always manipulate systems,” said one former employee, who also claimed that in his department, he was sacked while they preferred someone without any professional qualification having stopped going to school after Ordinary Level while he had relevant papers and experience.
Already, the effects of this ruthless mass sacking are being felt with the few adherent viewers, who have remained, complaining of poor sound and picture quality.
Not only has ZBC overlooked KPMG recommendations in this regard, but it also has outwardly failed to heed to counsel, which compelled it to improve its content and programming.
Instead, it has continued with the same old boring line of programmes that have over the years been responsible for putting off many a potential viewer, even when advice has been that it could give itself another chance to get serious about improving its atrocious programming — while at the same time keeping the stick hovering in the background.
This would have most likely produced  immediate results and a better long-term solution, than randomly getting rid of half the workers.
Then there is also the issue of the digitalisation.
ZBC spokesman, Gladman Bandama, has declared that ZBCTV’s Channel 2 and its Gweru based Voice of Zimbabwe Radio station have been closed, all workers seeing red, because of the digitalisation process.
“Through the digital migration process, ZBC may later recruit some of the employees being pruned from the corporation to take new roles that require their qualifications or experiences,” he said.
A flimsy excuse given that the broadcaster failed to meet digitalisation deadlines and many wonder whether, at this rate, ZBC will even be able to meet the revised 2016 Southern African Development Community deadline for countries to migrate.
There was more than enough time, accompanied by so many assurances, for the parastatal to meet the deadline, but it came and went – just like that. And it was business as usual, no one panicking.
Many are tempted to think that, in the light of Bandama’s claims, digitalization could have saved ZBC a lot of money, and along with it the worker’s jobs.
Far from being a proper excuse, then, the claim easily becomes just an admission of failure.
Let no one be fooled that after the sad departure of half the workforce, boom, we have a world class broadcaster!
No. Forget it and smile.
Even past experience has proven otherwise, for about 11 years ago, ZBC had a massive retrenchment — one whose legal costs still weigh on it to date — yet, no northwards change in terms of fortunes.
Instead, it nosedived further to this perilous level which they are trying to rectify through cosmetic means and even more retrenchments.
The convergence of thought and idea surrounding the ZBC discourse seems to point to one major aspect – that the broadcaster has got the diagnosis and the prescription to its illnesses all wrong.
It is surely time for an independent investigation into, for instance, the news practices at ZBC, as well as the whole host of other programmes. That is the general prognosis coming through, that is if anyone is interested in turning around its fortunes.