Taxpayer-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has indefinitely suspended its director of news and programmes Vincent Khonyongwa and controller of news Greyson Chapita over alleged gross negligence.
In a brief written response, MBC spokesperson Felister Chifumbi confirmed the suspensions, saying the decision was arrived at following a disciplinary process.
She said: “Yes, I can confirm [the suspensions] but for specific reasons, let these be internal matters as we respect the privacy of the concerned officers.”
But when contacted yesterday, both Khonyongwa and Chapita said the suspensions follow the use of swear words against Vice-President Saulos Chilima on May 11 this year during a 7pm Chichewa news bulletin.
In the news bulletin, MBC used a screenshot from its Facebook page and displayed comments on television purportedly to demonstrate that the public was against Chilima, who at the time was former president Peter Mutharika’s estranged second-in-command under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration. Some of the comments in the post contained swear words.
The report followed Chilima’s sentiments made at a rally in Mzuzu which UTM Party and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) held under the Tonse Alliance. During the rally, the Vice-President alleged that former president Bakili Muluzi threatened him through his associates.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Khonyongwa said he was asked by the board on December 11 2020 to submit a report on his role, in his capacity as director of news and programmes to which he did.
He said: “Of course, it’s true. I got the letter [of suspension] on December 16 and the reasons, according to the letter, are gross negligence.”
In a separate interview, Chapita said he was surprised that the board had resuscitated an issue that was already resolved before he received his suspension letter.
He said: “I was cleared on the matter because when the incident happened, I was in Lilongwe for MBC business. Now for the new board to resuscitate the issue, I was surprised. Maybe they noticed some flaws. Some people were suspended because of it, but I was cleared.”
However, Chapita said he was surprised that the board was handling the disciplinary process when, according to their conditions of service, they are supposed to report to executive management.
But reacting to the development yesterday, Media Council of Malawi (MCM) chairperson Wisdom Chimgwede said while they advocate for standards and ethical journalism, they hope that MBC board has had a thorough and transparent review of the issues to arrive at such a decision.
Following the broadcast of the swear words, some civil society organisations, including Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Youth and Society and Church and Society of the CCAP Livingstonia Synod, wrote Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority to suspend broadcasting by MBC.