Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Maxon Mbendera has warned that opinion polls can hurt and contribute to voter apathy if not handled with care.
Mbendera, who is a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, sounded the warning in Lilongwe on Saturday evening during a Gala Dinner Awards Ceremony organised by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter as part of celebrations of World Press Freedom Day which falls on May 3.
He said: “Some media houses promote opinion polls that have been conducted by institutions or individuals of questionable credibility.”
His sentiments came barely a week after Research Tech Consultants released findings of an opinion poll which favoured President Joyce Banda to win the presidential race in the May 20 Tripartite Elections. However, various electoral stakeholders questioned the credibility of the poll.
Mbendera stated that the Media Code of Conduct on Reporting Elections gives clear guidelines on reporting opinion polls.
He said the media should assess the validity of the opinion polls and ensure that they use acceptable methods of conducting surveys.
On coverage by taxpayer-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Mbendera said there is need for radical decisions and political will if the public broadcaster “will turn into a kind of a broadcaster that everyone wants it to be”.
Commenting on perceptions of rigging, the MEC chairperson dismissed the fears, arguing there “hasn’t been credible evidence so far”.
Sounding calm and collected, Mbendera—who jokingly laughed off claims that he deposited money into the account of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and that some people offered him K45 million—stressed that MEC has thoroughly investigated these rigging allegations and found that they are ‘sheer romours’.
Specifically targeting online media, Mbendera also called on the media to ensure that “it is not in the forefront engaging in the acts that are an abuse of the right to freedom of the press or freedom of expression”.
He said: “There is a lot of abuse of these two rights on the Internet. Oftentimes the media has taken advantage of the absence of regulation of the Internet and have harassed innocent people.”
Mbendera also called the media to appreciate that election-related violence has drastically been reduced this year compared to the 2009 general elections.