Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) has once more come under attack for issuing threats to private broadcasters on allegations that they have been airing offensive content during the ongoing campaign ahead of the fresh presidential election.
In a statement, Macra on Tuesday condemned TTV, Times Radio, Zodiak Broadcasting Station TV and radio and Mibawa Television for alleged broadcasting of “indecent, insulting and offensive materials during the campaign meetings”.
The regulator said its preliminary assessment of the broadcasts show breaches contrary to Section 22 of the Second Schedule to the Communications Act 2016; hence, it would report the said broadcasters to the Broadcasting Monitoring and Complaints Committee for further action.
But reacting to the statement in an interview on Tuesday, University of Malawi (Unima) communications and media policy analyst Jimmy Kainja wondered why Macra was behaving like an institution “that is totally captured by the incumbency” in its enforcement of regulations and laws.
He observed that Macra selectively enforces regulations and laws by, among others, swiftly acting against private broadcasters when they appear to favour the opposition political parties but is never around when the issue involves the public broadcaster, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).
Said Kainja: “Macra is supposed to be an independent body, but it chooses who to punish based on the available regulations. You saw two weeks ago an extreme indecent language on MBC TV during its prime time news, but until now nothing has happened.
“I am afraid we could now be having a censorship board in the name of a regulator and that is a serious problem.”
Reacting to the Macra statement, Mibawa TV managing director John Nthakomwa said the regulator’s statement was surprising because his station has not only remained non-partisan, but was also “very responsible”.
Macra communications manager Clara Ngwira said the authority has also summoned MBC on similar charges on specific breaches committed by the public broadcaster.
She said: “It should be highlighted that charges relate to specific broadcasts and are not generalised. The broadcast in question did not relate to MBC. Macra will not hesitate to summon any broadcaster for breaches of the Act.”
The Macra statement comes against the background of the regulator’s snail’s pace in acting on MBC’s conduct in disregarding ethics by broadcasting obscene messages against the country’s estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima two weeks ago.