Newly-appointed Minister of Information Gospel Kazako says government will restructure Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) to ensure the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster runs professionally.
In an interview after touring MBC Television on his first familarisation tour since his appointment last week, Kazako said the restructuring should not be seen as a witch-hunt for sympathisers of the ousted Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regime.
MBC has for years been faulted for pushing the governing parties propaganda at the expense of opposition parties as well as appointing individuals due to political affiliation.
However, Kazako said Malawians should now have confidence in the new MBC as the Tonse Alliance administration, led by President Lazarus Chakwera, will resuscitate it as a public broadcaster.
Said the minister: “There is a process right now of sanitising MBC and the entire system of government. MBC has been a very bad boy in the system and we would want to restructure it so that it becomes the media of the people, a public broadcaster. Malawians want their MBC back and we will be sanitising MBC.”
Kazako, who from the 1990s worked for MBC, said the restructuring will bring in professionals on merit and not sympathisers of the governing party.
He told MBC employees not to fear but rather embrace the looming change as it will be for the better.
Chakwera appointed a 31-member Cabinet last Wednesday, with Kazako, a veteran broadcaster and owner of multi-award winning Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), at the helm of the Information Ministry.
Following his Cabinet appointment, people raised concerns on a possible conflict of interest, as he served as managing director of ZBS.
But Kazako clarified that he has since resigned from his position as ZBS director and that the board will be announcing his replacement in due course.
He added that ZBS will continue to be guided by a policy which ensures it is run in a professional and independent manner, free from any political interference.
The minister also reiterated his pledge to ensure that the Access to Information (ATI) Act is operationalised as soon as possible, describing it as one of the pillars which the Tonse Alliance is leaning on for transparency.
The ATI was passed in Parliament in December 2016 and former president Peter Mutharika assented to it in February 2017, but a date for its implementation is yet to be set.
Meanwhile, MBC director general Aubrey Sumbuleta has said the broadcaster will go back to the drawing board to assess their successes and challenges and correct previous mistakes where possible.
He said in a separate interview: “Realistically, there are areas where we have done well and some we have not. As professionals, we will be going back to the drawing board to look at where we did well and where we did not do well and not repeat some mistakes we have done.”
But media experts stressed in separate interviews that it takes political will to turn MBC into the public broadcaster it is legally mandated to be.
University of Malawi’s Polytechnic head of journalism and media studies Dr Jolly Ntaba, who once worked at MBC, in a written response said legislation is nothing if there is no political will.
Section 87 (2) (a) of the Communications Act states, among others, that MBC shall in the provision of its broadcasting services, function without any political bias and independently of any person or body of persons. Section 87 (1) of the same Act describes MBC as a public broadcaster.
But Ntaba said: “Most practitioners [at MBC] always fear political reprisals if they act professionally and are usually are faced with two tough choices either to leave or toe the party line.”
However, he expressed optimism that things will change as Kazako has built himself a legacy which he would not want to taint by failing to honour his promise.
On his part, veteran broadcaster and media trainer Alaudin Osman said in the absence of political will, MBC has failed to perform its duties.
“This reform is long overdue because in a democracy such as what we are aspiring for, broadcasters and all other news media organisations are expected to be platforms on which people exchange ideas with leaders they elected into office. MBC has failed dismally to do this,” he said.
Kazako toured MBC television studios, news production and the commercial department, among other departments.
After the tour, he addressed MBC employees and informed them that time has come for people to get employed on merit and not based on political affiliation or tribe.