Freedom at last! Good people, the chant that marked South Africa’s triumph over discriminatory minority rule was back on the streets of Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation when the state-run broadcaster, Sabc, introduced a quota to ensure local music accounts for 90 songs in every 100.
The good news cements the country’s footprint as a pacesetter where Malawi and other Snails of Africa seem sluggish.
Ring-fencing the airwaves is neither xenophobic nor asking too much just when massive globalisation is putting unguarded cultures and their musings at the risk of extinction and giving way to foreign offerings.
For years, even Malawian artists have been campaigning for radio and televisions to air equal number of local and foreign songs.
This is asking too little.
They deserve no less than 60 percent of airplay.
So far, Macra has licensed 78 radio stations and 26 television service providers.
All licenses prescribe that foreign music deserved no more than four in 10 numbers.
For the stations, prioritising local content, including Malawian music, is not an option.
It is written in black and white on their licenses and Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) must make sure no abrogation goes unpunished.
Ordinarily, broadcasting licenses are not giveaways or handouts.
They comprise guidelines every broadcaster ought to obey unconditionally.
The 60 percent reserved for local content is just a minimum, and there is no penalty for any station to equal or surpass the 90 percent quota attained by SABC.
However, the main tragedy is not that the broadcasters’ affinity for foreign music offers little or no room for local songs.
Rather, the local artists themselves do not appear to know their fair share, so they cannot stand and fight for their rights the same way some Kenyan artists last year marched on the streets of the capital, Nairobi, to demand 70 percent entitlement.
Unfortunately, Malawi’s major enemy is MBC itself. The state-run broadcaster, which brags being a mother station owing to its long history, is no exemplar of good manners in the sector it claims to lead.
It keeps giving both artists and its listenership a raw deal.
Forget the perennial failure to pay artists royalties on time.
Its obsession with foreign music usually goes almost unchecked as if Aubrey Sumbuleta, the MBC boss paid to make the big decisions Hlaudi Motsoeneng takes at Sabc, is off-duty all the time.
MBC must start adhering to the conditions of its good ole license in full.
If Macra cannot hold the state-run station accountable for abrogating the conditions, it has no business asking private entities to play by its law book.
Last month, Macra director of broadcasting Zamdziko Mankhambo promised to peacefully engage all the broadcasters in time for enforcement of the hugely defied 60:40 ratio.
The sooner the engagement begins, the better.
Malawians want enforcement of the quota sooner or later–for justice delayed is justice denied.
They feel it is not good enough for them to keep waiting while the world of creativity sings praise of South Africa for finally giving its artists what they deserve.
The Malawian artists needs justice now. n