News that the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) fined Radio Islam K260 000 (abour $620) for allegedly demeaning Christianity received mixed reactions among Malawians. Some said Macra was harsh while others argued that discipline in broadcasting is important. But as BRIGHT MHANGO writes, the issue is more complex than the amount of the fine.
The news came via a media statement signed by Macra director general Charles Nsaliwa at the beginning of April. The statement said by “demeaning” other religious beliefs, Radio Islam breached Clause 2(a) of the Third Schedule to the Communications Act and Clause 10.1.3 of its license.
The statement came in the aftermath of Radio Islam airing a programme in January 2013 which, according to Macra, tarnished the Christian religion.
“…the programme was stating that Jesus is not the son of God and all people who follow him shall perish in hell,” reads the statement in part.
For its alleged indiscretions, the radio was fined K260 000.
Naturally, this did not go down well with the Muslim community. There were verbal wars on social networks, with some quarters hailing Macra and others raising their eyebrows at the decision.
Last Thursday, Sheik Dinala Chabulika, national coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau, who also speaks for the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM), confirmed reports that a delegation of Muslim clerics visited Macra offices in Blantyre to protest the fine.
In an earlier email interview, Chabulika expressed his sentiments on the issue and wondered how the fine came about when Islam has always said that Jesus is not the son of God.
“What surprises the Islamic community in Malawi and the whole world is that this is not the first time Muslims believe that Jesus is not the son of God. This belief is according to the teachings of Islam. God the Almighty says in the Holly Book of Quran in chapter 112 verses 1-4. This is the fact and there is no any knowledgeable Christian who can deny that.
“We went to Macra to assure them Islamic facts will remain facts forever. Muslims should respect the beliefs of Christians and Christians should also respect the beliefs of Muslims in order to enjoy the coexistence that is prevailing in this country. Militant preaching, insults and intimidation will not take us anywhere,” said Chabulika.
But Macra based its action on the law, the Communications Act of 1998, which regulates the licensing and operations of radios in the country.
Can the Communications Act tame religion?
The Third Schedule of the Act reads: “Broadcasting licensees shall (a) not broadcast any material which is indecent or obscene or offensive to public morals (including abusive or insulting language) or offensive to the religious convictions of any section of the population or likely to prejudice the safety of the Republic or public order and tranquillity.”
Macra, as the regulator, can decide what is offensive to public morals or what the institution believes denigrates other religions, but the problem is that the statements are too vague and broad.
Let us say George Thindwa, executive director of the Association of Secular Humanism, goes on radio and says there is no God. This is a sin punishable by death in Islam and a serious insult to Christians.
So, should the radio that broadcast Thindwa’s message be fined?
What about Thindwa’s right to free speech? What if the radio puts a disclaimer that the views of the people speaking on the station are not those held by the radio?
The Constitution grants free speech, freedom of religion and each religion teaches that there is only one master: God for Christians, Allah for Muslims and so on.
The Quran says in Sura 21:98: “Surely you and what you worship besides Allah are the firewood of hell; to it you shall come.”
The Muslim holy book also says Jesus is not God as capture in Suras 5:75, 5:119 and 21:98.
So Radio Islam was only airing what Allah passed to Muhammad verbatim. Does the fine mean Islam is illegal in Malawi, then?
The fine also means that songs such the one that says “Mayina enawa ndi a feki” [some of these names—apart from Jesus—are fake] denigrate other religions by induction?
Are the booming Pentecostal sermons that charge that whoever is not born again will burn in hell also in breach of the Communications Act if aired on radio or television?