Former Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) Director General, Chibamba Kanyama has weighed in on the current debate on the economic viability of a deal entered into between state broadcaster ZNBC and Chinese media group Star Times.
The deal worth $273 million involves the set up of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), Top Star Limited, to spearhead the digital migration of ZNBC in partnership with Star Times, a Chinese company founded in 1988, which is an influential system integrator, technology provider, network operator, and content provider in China’s television broadcasting industry, and is currently on an aggressive global expansion drive to become a media group with global influence.
Kanyama in a social media debate posted that “On the issue of ZNBC, that SPV is indeed a vehicle meant to take away from ZNBC in terms of string of revenues. Having been part of this process and made the initial negotiation with Star Times in China, I know it’s a rip off”. The former ZNBC head further stated that “In 2013, we all agreed not to contract this loan, [that we] embark on digital migration on less than US$100 million and that government would mop up cash from unspent moneys at close of 2013 financial year. I am now shocked ZNBC went ahead to contract this loan when the motives of the Star Times have been clear”.
He further stated that “Star Times has been very desperate to come to Zambia. They have their own agenda, to roll out pay TV. They initially tried the Muvi window. Readers may remember the time Muvi started broadcasting UEFA Champions league. That was Star Times that bought the rights with the hope of staging a coup against Multichoice. As things stand, ZNBC is still married to Multichoice and it is wrong to marry another wife before you divorce the other if the marriage was contractual. Never trust the Chinese. I have had enough of them. They are the ones who have exported corruption to our country”.
However, both the government Information Minister Kampamba Mulenga and President Lungu’s Press aid, Amos Chanda’s official statement is that the SPV, Topstar Limited, is a joint venture company through which Zambia as a country is implementing the digital migration process and that ZNBC has not been sold. Even if it were to be a sale, it would require not just a Cabinet Resolution but an amendment of four of our laws; the Constitution itself, the ZNBC Act, the IBA Act, ZICTA Act and the Broadcasting Act.
The statement further states that “In this case the Zambian government has guaranteed a loan of $273 million (i.e Govt pays if the SPV (Top star) defaults on the Exim bank loan. What has happened at ZNBC is akin to the ZNBC-Multichoice arrangement where the two companies have a 51-49 percent shareholding in the Multichoice Zambia joint venture.
However, this deal with StarTimes entails a lot more such as building new studios, equipment upgrade and build provincial television stations, that will deliver more content. And on Multi-Choice’s raising concerns on this deal, it is expected because Multi- Choice has been using a public platform and making huge profits out of it. On the other hand, Star Times is upgrading and building new and the next generation network. The state has however still not made available the breakdown of the $273 million investment so that the deal can be evaluated by interested parties and independent experts to defray any suspicion of overpricing.