Last week, an avid reader of this column weighed in on the debate on the role of taxpayer-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). This was after the news media giant aired comments containing vulgar language aimed at the State Vice-President Saulos Chilima.
This week, another reader and veteran broadcaster Charles Chikapa wrote to express his views on the matter. It is only fair that I give this respected journalist room this week to share his views. Here below is his take:
Dear Word on the Street.
I have read with keen interest your article titled Politicians will not change MBC. While I wholeheartedly support your observations I have slight reservations on some points raised in your article. For example, you are saying: ‘some countries successfully reformed their State media into real public media serving the interest of society.’ I would have appreciated if you gave one or two examples of such countries in the Sub Region or indeed Africa as a whole to underscore your point.
My other observation relates o the role played by the colonial administrators who by inference you are saying they laid the foundation stone for the situation we find ourselves in. The specific quotation in your article goes as follows: “However it must be noted that this problem has its roots dating from as far as the colonial era. The system of designing State media to complement government agenda was messed up big time that even when a new wind of transforming State media into public broadcasters blew across the continent this biased system of news coverage had its roots too deep to be uprooted in a day. Nevertheless some countries successfully reformed their State media into real public media serving the interests of the society”
In responding to your article I would first of all like to give a brief historical background to the establishment of the institution based on the information that I have gathered over the years. Before the imposition of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland as the country was then known had no broadcasting institution as we know it today.
However, following the imposition of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953, the white colonialists established an institution called the Federal Broadcasting Corporation (FBC) with its headquarters in the capital Salisbury, now Harare. During the life of the Federation at FBC, there were two departments-one catering for white interests and the other for African interests. Broadcasts for whites were produced and aired in Salisbury while broadcasts for Africans in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia were prepared and aired in Lusaka, Zambia.
The interests for listeners in Malawi then Nyasaland were handled by the broadcasting house in Zambia. It is only after the dissolution of the Federation that the MBC was formed through an Act of Parliament around 1964. Since there was no building to house the new MBC arrangements were made by government to acquire some space at the Post Office Building that were used to house the new Broadcasting entity.
As the activities for the new MBC expanded new premises were identified and these are where MBC is currently operating from. To give credit to the colonial administrators every effort was made to recruit and train personnel to acquire knowledge and skills in broadcasting. To this end the British Government through the British Council offered scholarships for Malawian broadcasters to train at the BBC Training Centre in the UK. Some of the notable faces include Nyokase Madise, Manjawira Msowoya, Masanya Banda, Makachi Chirwa, and Tony Kandiero to name but a few. In addition to the training the British Government seconded personnel from the BBC in London as one way of building the capacity of the newly established MBC. Among those seconded were the Director General, the Head of Programmes and the Head of Administration.
The expectations at that time were that MBC would emulate the high professional standards that BBC is renowned of. But along the way things started falling apart. Slowly the standards that the British had tried to instil in our broadcasting architecture were slowly eroded. This trend is not only unique to Malawi. n