Pay-TV service provider, StarTimes, has sparked controversy in Zambia over an opaque joint venture agreement between it and the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC).
The contract, worth $271 million, allows StarTimes to control the public broadcaster networks. StarTimes will have the controlling share of the new Joint Venture, with the ZNBC only controlling 40 per cent. The deal hands over control of public broadcasting in Zambia to the Chinese for 25 years. This is not the first time StarTimes has found itself in a storm of controversy in Zambia.
In September 2013, the government of Zambia cancelled a 2011 digital terrestrial TV tender awarded to StarTimes Group. The contract was previously won by Star Software Technology, a subsidiary of StarTimes Group. It covered the design, supply and commissioning of the country’s national Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) system. Reports in the country’s media blamed the cancellation on irregularities in the handling of the contract by Zambia’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services.
However, StarTimes, through the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services, appealed the decision. It lost the appeal because Zambia’s Public Procurement Authority decided that due process had not been followed.
Despite the abnormalities that marked the award of the tender, it has again been awarded to StarTimes, raising concerns that it could have more grim consequences for the Zambia’s broadcasting industry.
However, StarTimes appears determined to exclude all other market players, as it wants to control DTT on an exclusive basis. This, many reckon, will kill off any potential growth normally seen with digital migration in the television and film sector of the economy, effectively sounding the death knell for the country’s nascent film industry.
But despite all the detrimental effects this would have on the film and television industry and the fact that government is handing control of its national broadcaster to a foreign company, the new contract seems to defy all legal frameworks and does not conform to the public procurement processes.
Effectively, the joint venture between Star Times and the ZNBC will render the digital migration policy adopted by the Zambian Government ineffective. Star Times is not unfamiliar with government controversy. In Ghana, for example, Star Times is currently engaged in litigation with the country’s government over a cancelled DTT contract and there are reports of its operations being shut down in the country.