July 18, 2007

Must See TV

The paint seemed barely dry on the doorway as I entered Muvi TV's head office in Lusaka earlier today. The place had a posh, but cobbled-together feel about it. Like radio and cell phones before them, private TV stations are on fire in Zambia right now.

In the company boardroom, drab concrete walls framed an enormous cherrywood table encircled by high-backed executive chairs. Our host, director of programmes Mr. Chela Katwishi, had a personality and tenor befitting his furniture and job description. As the head of the only independent broadcaster in the country - that has "critical content" and not just Nigerian soaps - he's on the frontline of pushing Government's resolve to observe the editorial freedoms of this relatively young medium. With a varied background in radio (a source of almost constant belligerence) and the president's office (strict deference to Father Levy), he knows what buttons to push. The key, according to Katwishi, is to know where authorities are vulnerable and "hit as hard as we can," but also to know when to back off (this, I assume, was in reference to the law that forbids "insulting the president").

And judging by the office space, Katwishi's designer suit and the rates they tried to charge my host organization for airtime, it's all very profitable to be critical of public officials. The director quoted a recent study done by the University of Lusaka - since withdrawn for mysteriously unknown reasons - that Muvi TV has three times the viewership of government broadcasters ZNBC. He claims that political call-in shows receive over 80,000 text messages per day.

So, hopefully he can help. A colleague and myself were at the station to pitch a live debate on Zambian farming policies that addresses the troubling problem of food shortages in a vastly fertile and well-watered nation. We agreed on a short 15-minute format that would pit struggling small-scale farmers against government officials and leaders of the farmers' unions.

"Juicy, crispy, and to the point!" marvelled Katwishi, in a reference that made me even hungrier for a bit of lunch, but equally eager to work with a man who's setting the the Zambian media market alight.


Scott said...

My Son!

You're taking it to the establishment and are going to change the game like Roy Hutson. That is if you can stay away from corrupt government off-ish-als.

Emilie said...

I wonder if it's safe to criticize the critics?