Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) has completed a sensitisation campaign on the newly gazetted broadcasting regulations which, among others, require all broadcasters to use a profanity delay machine during live programmes.
Macra communications manager Clara Ngwira said on Thursday that the device is meant to aid in blocking obscene, unwanted or offensive content.
She said Macra has been meeting all its broadcasting licensees at regional level to sensitise them to the regulations so that they fully understand their obligations in the course of serving the nation.
Said Ngwira: “The regulations provide minimum standards of obligations to be met by the broadcasters and we believe that if they can abide by what has been laid down in the document, there will be great improvement in the sector.”
With the development, she said, people seeking a content broadcasting licence will no longer be required to go through the previous rigorous process as they will just need to submit their applications to Macra along with a certificate of incorporation and evidence of technical capacity.
However, Ngwira said that for a television licence, the rollout period is 12 months while that of radio is six months from the date the licence was gazetted.
The regulations also require the licensee to apply for a licence renewal six months before the licence expires.
Reacting to the requirement for broadcasters to have the delay device, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter chairperson Teresa Ndanga yesterday said her organisation agreed that the machine is critical for broadcasters, but Macra needed to have given the broadcasters a timeframe within which to acquire the same.
In a separate interview, Times Group editor-in-chief George Kasakulasaid Macra briefed broadcasters on the new regulations last week, though the regulator did not consult them on what would be included in the regulations.
He said: “The machine is very expensive. I am not sure how many broadcasters would afford it. It is a very difficult regulation which might end up denying bona fide Malawians from expressing themselves on radio on matters of national interest.
“As for Times, machine or no machine, we have well-trained journalists who are able to control what goes through on air.”
On his part, Zodiak Broadcasting Station managing director Gospel Kazako said in an interview that the issue of live programmes is complex and asked Macra to be clear on what constitutes live programming.
He said Malawi has a responsible media that does not necessarily need very tight regulations.
Said Kazako: “ More needs to be answered on why this machine is necessary and which programmes need this.”
The regulations, published in the Malawi Government Gazette in June this year, were drafted in 2011 and went through stakeholder consultations before submission to Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs for final authentication.
In June this year, Macra banned live phone-in programmes on the basis that they had potential to incite the masses into violence. However, some private broadcasters and Misa Malawi Chapter challenged the ban in court where they got an order reinstating the programmes.