Malawians need to cherish some strides the country has made to promote freedom of the press since the advent of multiparty politics in 1994.
Of particular mention was the passing of the Communications Act (1998).
The law liberated the broadcasting sector. Unlike in the one-party era when the country had only the State-controlled Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), the liberalisation of the broadcasting sector has led to the establishment of two more public stations and over 80 private and community broadcasters.
The mushrooming of private broadcasters has given a platform to those with dissenting and alternative views to be heard.
Like any formal sector, broadcasters are required to adhere to certain rules and regulations. They are supposed to respect terms and conditions that govern the sector.
In Malawi, fundamental statutes governing broadcasting are the Communications Act and broadcasting licences.
Additionally, every broadcasting station is obliged to conform to international ethical standards.
Ideally, adherence to regulations promotes professionalism and fair competition among players. It also protects certain universal human and consumer rights and maintains sanity in the sector.
Unfortunately, some broadcasters are not adhering to the requirements. They are flouting rules and regulations of the game.
This is happening even in broadcasting houses that are endowed with qualified and experienced media personnel who are surely conversant with the requirements of professional journalism.
Commonly, the broadcasting breaches are political in nature.
This is not surprising as political parties have unofficially started campaigning in readiness for 2019 Tripartite Elections.
The increase in cases of politically-related broadcasting breaches is a clear indication that some broadcasting stations are affiliated to some parties. They are busy advancing the agenda of their favourite political parties.
Unfortunately, politically-biased broadcasting breaches are on the rise.
Some broadcasters are compromising their reputation because they want to counteract unethical conduct of competing broadcasters whom they think are serving interests of an opposing political party.
Retrogressively, some broadcasters justify their unbecoming behaviour by arguing that other broadcasters “who equally demonstrate unethical conduct” are not being reprimanded by relevant authorities.
Logically, no broadcaster can outclass a competitor by employing unethical behaviour.
In fact, if a broadcaster adopts an unethical approach to respond to the undesirable conduct of a competitor, listeners will judge both equally.
In my view, broadcasters would easily build a good reputation if they give equal opportunities to all parties involved in issues being aired to give their sides of the issue.
This would increase listenership and viewership of the professional station.
This will in turn promote its popularity because publics that subscribe to different political ideologies would be confident that their stands are equally represented by this particular broadcaster.
Once broadcasters start adhering to the provisions of the broadcasting statutes, the sector will move towards being self-regulating.
Certainly, if broadcasters start adhering to the requirements of broadcasting statutes, they will be achieving some key principles of governance including the rule of law, fairness and inclusion.
In this way, broadcasters would themselves be participating in the promotion of good governance, a thing that on several occasions they highlight governments fail to observe. n