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Monday, July 24, 2017

StarTimes deal with Zambia state broadcaster stirs furore

StarTimes free to air digital boxes. The parent company of StarTimes Kenya is on the spotlight in Zambia over control of national broadcaster./FILE
StarTimes free to air digital boxes. The parent company of StarTimes Kenya is on the spotlight in Zambia over control of national broadcaster./FILE

StarTimes Group, one of the two TV signal distributors in Kenya, has come under fire in Zambia for seeking to control the state broadcaster and allegedly excluding rivals from the digital TV market.

This follows the signing of a new deal worth US$271million allowing it to take over the public broadcaster, Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation for 25 years.

Questions were raised over the way it was awarded a tender in 2013 to roll out a digital terrestrial TV network similar to the one it has in Kenya.

Zambia’s government cancelled that tender citing irregularities.

The tender covered the design, supply and commissioning of the country’s national DTT system.

Local reports at the time cited irregularities in the way the tender was handled by Zambia’s Ministry of Information & Broadcasting Services. Yet, despite a legacy of abnormalities, the tender in Zambia has yet again been mysteriously given to Star Times – with even more dire consequences to the broadcasting industry in Zambia.

The contract worth millions of dollars also involves the signing of a joint venture agreement between StarTimes and the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation – allowing StarTimes to control the public broadcaster networks.

“The fact that government is handing control of its national broadcaster to a foreign company is detrimental to the sovereignty of the Zambian nation,” The Zambian Watchdog publication reports.

StarTimes has also gotten into trouble in Malawi for entering a deal with the government which would have seen it take over the state broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. In Ghana, StarTimes is currently engaged in litigation with the Ghana government over a cancelled DTT contract.

Many African state broadcasters are facing financial woes as they struggle to compete with newer privately-owned operations making them soft targets for global players. Kenya Broadcasting Corporation was recently declared insolvent by the Auditor General with mounting debt standing at Sh41billion.

“It will lead to dire financial consequences for the ZNBC while giving StarTimes tax breaks, access to land, and takes jobs away from locals,” Lusaka-based reporter Charles Tonga adds.

The Zambian Watchdog report says StarTimes seems determined to exclude all other market players as they want to control DTT on an exclusive basis – thus killing off any potential growth in the television and film sector of the economy which normally sees growth during digital migration.

StarTimes did not respond to our request for comment.

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