Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has made a predictable turn, halting praise and worshipping of defeated President Peter Mutharika’s regime in favour of the winning Tonse Alliance they loved to deride before its June 23 victory. The change of tune could be sweet to the ears of the new ruling elites, but proponents of media professionalism and diversity are concerned about the new normal. In this interview, our Features Writer JAMES CHAVULA engages media and political scientist Chimwemwe Tsitsi on what needs to change.
What do you make of the shift at the State broadcaster? Is it good enough?
The shift, in my view, is not good enough. In fact, if the new government is not careful, such a shift may only dent its image. What MBC needs is real change that embraces professionalism because Malawians are concerned about its lack of professionalism. It cannot continue to work as a mouthpiece for the governing party. Systems that work, even for MBC, is what the new Malawi and people want and what they voted for.
During the suspenseful transition period, we saw MBC shun Mutharika’s exit speech while Malawians were waiting to know how the defeated incumbent would concede defeat. How do you assess that decision?
MBC might have done well, in their view, by not giving the former president coverage of his farewell speech as perhaps a signal to Malawians that they are a public broadcaster and they couldn’t peddle the DPP line of thinking anymore, owing to the fact that the former president’s speech was bent at challenging the will of the people and resisting change, but they can still do better.
Why not cover the function live and then do an objective analysis thereafter using facts and analysts on the ground to condemn the path taken by the losing team, owing to the transparency and professionalism displayed by the new Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) team in conducting the fresh elections.
For the past five years, the people now in power have been complaining about MBC bias. What will it take to change the tone of the institution?
To make sure MBC changes for good and it becomes a broadcaster of Malawians, there is need to put in place professional managers who are not bent at pleasing the political masters, but serving the public and make the media organisation fully independent, covering even political dissent to the governing party.
However, there’s need for such independent and professional shift to be real, lest we only enable overzealous DPP cadres who are still at MBC to continue peddling the DPP agenda in the name of being objective and equally covering the opposition.
That is why we need a truly professional journalist, not just a Tonse Alliance sympathiser, taking over overall leadership at the State broadcaster and bringing the change that makes MBC the giant it is supposed to be, even to the benefit of the ruling party. A liberated MBC will help those in government sense the will of the people in relation to public policy, thereby strengthening a system of checks and balances we all need in a new Malawi, whereby the media, including the public broadcaster, truly performs the watchdog role as the fourth estate of government.
The will of the people must be continuously ascertained and not only through elections, and liberating MBC is one way of ensuring that and such a move will even be to the advantage of Chakwera and his government. As observed by some political scientists in their writings, a government that doesn’t know the will or feelings of its people is in a dangerous position as it is forever divorced from political reality and it may be pushing through an agenda that only hurts the masses more and more, thereby digging its own political grave.
What will it take to change mindsets of overzealous people at the State broadcaster?
To avoid other Steve Maseyas and Hope Chisanus of this world at MBC, let those appointed to lead the State broadcaster be appointed based on their professional attributes rather than political affiliation. Tonse Alliance should avoid simply replacing DPP cadres with their own if they want real change at MBC. n