Public broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has come under fire from media professionals and commentators alike who have condemned the institution for disregarding ethics by airing obscene content to disparage the country’s estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima.
The taxpayer-funded broadcaster aired the offensive content in its 7pm Chichewa television news bulletin on Monday evening. 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 Party president and fell out with President Peter Mutharika and the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in June 2018.
Some of the comments from the broadcaster’s purported social media page contained swear words.
The report was apparently the broadcaster’s reaction to Chilima’s sentiments made at a rally on Sunday in Mzuzu where UTM Party and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) held under the Tonse Alliance. During the rally, the Vice-President alleged that former president Bakili Muluzi, whose son has partnered DPP, threatened him through his associates.
Reacting to the development, Media Council of Malawi (MCM) chairperson Wiseman Chijere Chirwa described MBC’s conduct as “below any standard of morality”.
He said: “Relevant authorities like Macra [Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority] need to take action. They should discipline MBC management… Anything less than that would be unacceptable.”
Chijere Chirwa said it is “unprofessional and unethical” that such words were used on a person who is the second-in-command and emphasised that it is not about the person, but the office he holds.
In a statement signed by chairperson Teresa Ndanga, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter described MBC’s conduct as “not only shameful, but immoral and an attack on professional journalism”.
Reads the statement in part: “Misa Malawi would also like to urge individual journalists to rise above partisan journalism and embrace a culture of professionalism.”
In a separate written response, media trainer Levi Zeleza Manda said: “This is disgusting, immoral, irresponsible, unforgivable, intolerable and outright silly. Note that MBC newscasts are heavily filtered and often top management is involved, particularly when an issue is politically-sensitive as this one. Their objective of swearing at Dr Chilima has been achieved.”
On his part, Jolly Ntaba, head of Journalism and Media Studies Department at the Polytechnic—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said MBC has failed in its duty as a public broadcaster.
“This is not journalism. We can do better. How did this pass through the gate-keeping process baffles everyone called a journalist,” he said.
In a telephone interview, MBC board chairperson the Reverend Daniel Gunya conceded that what happened was unprofessional and unethical.
Meanwhile, some civil society organisations (CSOs), including Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), Youth and Society (YAS) and Church and Society of the CCAP Livingstonia Synod, through lawyer George Kadzipatike, have written Macra to suspend broadcasting of MBC by Friday, failing which they will seek legal redress.
But Macra communications manager Clara Ngwira, in a written response, on Tuesday said the regulator will accordingly invoke its regulatory powers and ensure that necessary action is taken in accordance with applicable laws governing electoral broadcasting.
However, in its statement on Tuesday, Macra’s tone was far from condemning MBC. Instead, the regulator appealed to “all broadcasters” to observe the Broadcasting Code of Conduct under the Communications Act.
While ignoring mention of the aggrieved parties, notably Chilima and viewers, the Macra statement said MBC had been summoned to a hearing in a period of seven days.
Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani asked for a questionnaire—a rare request from him—which he was yet to respond as we went to press.