Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has told taxpayer-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) to address concerns about its operations that the public has been raising since the country attained multiparty democracy in 1994.
MHRC chairperson Reverend Patrick Semphere said this in an interview after the commission held a closed-door meeting with MBC board in Blantyre on Tuesday where they discussed a number of concerns.
He said the issues included biased reporting on public issues, overzealousness of staff who engage in partisan politicking, offensive and unprofessional broadcasts and the role of MBC as a State broadcaster in the June 23 fresh presidential election.
Said Semphere: “On the concerns raised, we were told that some can be addressed now but others can be addressed with time so we have asked management to address those concerns that can be dealt with currently.”
The MHRC chairperson said several recommendations were also made from the meeting.
“We will be having periodic follow-up meetings with them but there is no specific time-frame. However, some issues Parliament needs to address and appointing authorities [government] apart from management,” he said.
Semphere said apart from involving Parliament, which comes in as MBC was established under an Act of Parliament, they will go an extra mile in involving political parties, including those in opposition, to see how best they can resolve the issues.
MBC director general Aubrey Sumbuleta in a written response described the meeting as fruitful.
He said: “We have committed ourselves to make improvements in the areas that were noted as shortfalls. With regard to the fresh [presidential] election, we have pledged to continue offering coverage opportunities to all contesting parties in the best way possible.”
Sumbuleta said they have also appealed before the MHRC for a free operating atmosphere for MBC journalists who on many occasions have received a hostile reception in their quest to balance stories or indeed provide coverage to some of the contesting parties.
During the meeting, MHRC cited Chindunji, Sapita Kawiri and Manifesto, as some of the ‘unbiased and unfair’ programmes on MBC.
The commission also observed that use of offensive language towards human rights activists leaves a lot to be desired, citing the use of the terms such as Bungwe la za Uchifwamba apparently referring to the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC).
Other MHRC commissioners that attended the meeting includeD Baldwin Chiyamwaka, Rosemary Kanyuka, Peter Chisi and Sunduzwayo Madise.
Meanwhile, a senior retired MBC manager who spoke on condition of anonymity said there is heavy interference from politicians and government on MBCs programming and news content.
Said the source: “At times, senior managers would receive phone calls from politicians to stop showing opposition political parties or even a member of a ruling party if they are not in good books or maybe that particular individual is becoming more popular.anything either to do with
“If you would beam something that is to do with the opposition in a positive manner or news content which is despising the government, then you risk being fired or moved for some small reason that would be created.”
MBC is a public broadcaster mandated and formed by government under an Act of Parliament in 1964, to enhance the successful implementation of its social and economic programmes.
However, the institution has been under criticism from the public for leaning towards the government of the day and not serving the public interest as per its given mandate.