British High Commissioner Michael Nevin has asked government not to interfere with Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), especially as the county heads towards the May 20 Tripartite Elections.
Speaking in an exclusive interview last week, Nevin said it is sad that every administration has wanted to control MBC to stop divergent views from being aired.
Said Nevin: “I know that the journalists, the editors and senior managers at MBC are professional and they need to be left alone to do their job professionally. That is not only a democratic principle but it makes commercial sense because if MBC concentrate on announcing one-sided issues, they will lose listenership for the radio and viewership for the TV.”
He said it was an encouraging development when the Joyce Banda administration opened up MBC to opposition parties last year, but that did not last long as government has now taken total control of the radio and television.
“There was a period when MBC seemed to be opening up to alternative views beyond the ruling party. This was welcomed by many stakeholders, but it appears that that brief period of liberalisation has been choked again,” said Nevin.
He said it is important for any democracy to allow plurality of views and information, especially this election year, so that people make informed decisions.
When contacted, MBC director general Benson Tembo said: “I am on leave and, therefore, I cannot grant a telephone interview to a person I have never met before.”
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said in an interview on Sunday the commission cannot force MBC to open up until March 17 when the official campaign period starts.
“As of now, there is nothing we can do to force MBC to open up. We can only force them once the campaign period officially starts and that is on 17 March,” said Mwafulirwa.
But constitutional lawyer Associate Professor Edge Kanyongolo says MBC is required by law to open up to all political parties not only during elections.
“If MBC does not open up, they are infringing the law and this will catch up with them in future,” said Kanyongolo.
A senior employee at MBC conceded that only the MBC radio is able to feature opposition figures but TV is a no-go zone.
“At least on the radio we can feature opposition politicians, but if you watch TV, it is only government which is dominating,” said the official.