The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) has said it will not take off-air State broadcaster—Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) for airing obscene and disparaging content to the country’s estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima last Monday.
Some citizens and rights groups such as Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), Youth and Society (YAS) and Church and Society of the CCAP Livingstonia Synod, wrote Macra to suspend broadcasting of MBC by last Friday or face legal action.
But in a response letter to the demand, dated May 15 2020, Macra director general Godfrey Itaye said taking such action against MBC will be going against rules of natural justice.
Itaye said Macra has already summoned MBC to appear before the Election Broadcasting Monitoring and Complaints Committee on preliminary findings of breaches of the Communications Act.
“We, therefore, wish to advise you that Macra has already summoned MBC to appear before the Election Broadcasting Monitoring and Complaints Committee on preliminary findings of breaches under Section 22 of the Second Schedule of the Communications Act following the infringing broadcast of 11th May 2020 and the hearing is scheduled to take place on 2oth May 2020,” reads Macra’s letter, in part.
It adds: “We, therefore, regret that Macra cannot take off-air MBC Television and Radio as per your demand as doing so is demanding Macra to go against natural justice requirements in our governing laws, above cited.”
Through lawyer Jivason Kadzipatike, the CSOs argued that MBC is a statutory licencee under the Communications Act, and that through the same Act, under Section 43, Macra can revoke the said licence.
Reads the lawyer’s letter: “Our clients have noted that MBC has gone overboard in contravening its statutory duties under the Communications Act.
“MBC is perpetually in breach of its public service obligations under the Act and the broadcaster has clearly shown the whole world that it has no respect for human rights, rule of law and the Constitution as required of it under Section 109 of the Communications Act.”
Meanwhile, Kadzipatike has said he is engaging his clients on the way forward, but maintained that he is of the view that MBC should have been suspended pending hearing, and such suspension would not infringe on principles of natural justice in any way.
Reacting to MBC’s beaming of the obscene content in an interview with our sister newspaper The Nation, Media Council of Malawi (MCM) chairperson Wiseman Chijere Chirwa described its conduct as “below any standard of morality”.
“Relevant authorities like Macra [Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority] need to take action. They should discipline MBC management… Anything less than that would be unacceptable,” he said.
Media Institute of Malawi (Misa) urged individual journalists at MBC to rise above partisan journalism and embrace a culture of professionalism and integrity to safeguard their own career, media freedom and independence.
The institute also asked Macra to discipline MBC and ensure that the station is professional and operates according to the provisions of the Communications Act.
It further said Parliament should also take concrete steps that would guarantee non-partisan programming at MBC at all times.
The taxpayer-funded broadcaster aired the offensive content in its 7pm Chichewa television news bulletin last Monday.
In the report in question, MBC used a screenshot from its Facebook page and displayed comments on television purportedly to demonstrate that the public was against Chilima, who is now UTM president and fell out with President Peter Mutharika and the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in June 2018.