The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) has faulted taxpayer funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) for bias coverage of governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) during the elections campaign period.
In its report from a media monitoring project conducted between March 22 and May 18, the IWPR indicates that the 2019 pattern of findings is similar to that of 2009 and 2014, where most negative reporting was against main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
The report states that MBC Television and Radios One and Two continued to give excessive and unfair bias towards the governing party.
Reads the findings in part: “MBC has gone back to the biased reporting trends observed in 2009 when the coverage was overwhelmingly in support of the ruling party against other parties, especially MCP.”
The report further states that as the incumbent exercised power in using State media for positive coverage, the private media balanced up this role by being fair in delivering information to the public.
In an interview after making a presentation on the findings in Blantyre yesterday, an IWPR consultant Professor Edrienne Kayambazinthu said there is need for the media to move away from negative coverage during election period.
She said: “We would like to have fair coverage and it means each and every media house, whether State or private, should cover elections fairly to give Malawians options they can choose from.
“For example, in the report, it indicates that MBC was biased towards one candidate when we had seven other candidates in the elections.”
Kayambazinthu also expressed dissatisfaction on the lack of balance in the coverage of the May 21 Tripartite Elections, saying the presidential election was given more priority than the parliamentary and local government elections.
Prior to the campaign period, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) produced a Media Code of Conduct which all accredited media institutions, including MBC, signed for in pledging to provide fair coverage to all participating political parties in the elections.
Asked to comment on the findings, MBC director general Aubrey Sumbuleta claimed the corporation accorded all contesting parties equal coverage of their campaign messages.
“However, it should be noted that taking up the offer to use the public broadcaster depended on various political parties’ interests and priorities and willingness,” he said.
MEC had invited political parties contesting in the elections to record a 30-minute campaign message submitted to the electoral body for broadcast on the public broadcasters outlets, but many opted out citing MBC’s known bias towards the governing party.
Sumbuleta said MBC also had stringers in all the 28 districts covering parties’ campaigns whose reports were aired during news programmes.
On his part, MEC director of media and public relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa echoed Sumbuleta’s sentiments, saying political parties decided not to have their messages submitted to the corporation.
He said: “The other parties and independent candidates exercised their right to refrain from participating. Nobody could have forced them, it was their choice. MBC provided a platform and it also provided for presidential candidates to record a 30 minute programme but the candidates never picked it up.”
Two parties, MCP and UTM turned down a request by MBC to submit pre-recorded campaign messages for airing on the station, arguing they had lost trust in the State broadcaster which they said is highly compromised and biased towards the DPP.
Efforts to talk to Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) director general Godfrey Itaye and spokesperson Clara Mwafulirwa on MBC’s perceived bias proved futile as they could not both pick up our phone calls on their known mobile numbers.
At the launch of the official campaign period on May 19 at the Bingu International Convention Centre, MEC chairperson Jane Ansah also urged the media to provide a platform for all contesting candidates to ensure party messages reach out to voters.
Prior to the launch, MBC also pledged its commitment to open up to all political parties as one way of ensuring balance and fairness in its coverage.