he media industry in Malawi continued to consolidate its place as an important force in
Malawi’s democracy during 2008. The year was an assortment of triumph, hope and zeal,
on the one hand, and enduring the not-so-favourable atmosphere on the other. On a number
of occasions the media made stunning revelations that were initially denied as rumours only
to be confirmed later as the truth. On January 15, 2008 The Nation ran a front-page headline
“Malawi dumps Taiwan”, reporting on Malawi’s switch in diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Joyce Banda had been quoted in the same newspaper on January
4, 2008 describing anything that was being said in this regard as rumour. Ten days later she
addressed a press conference to confirm the “rumour”.
The media further confirmed its watchdog role when a shocking story of under-age street boys,
recruited by a restaurant owner in the capital city, Lilongwe, to clear a sewer pipe without
protective gear, led the authorities to arrest the culprit for flouting labour laws.

On a sad note, media practitioners did not escape victimisation ranging from beatings and
harassment as Deborrah Chipofya Nyangulu from Blantyre Newspapers Limited (BNL) would
attest when she was harassed in the line of duty by ruling party supporters at a presidential
press conference in early October for asking a question they considered “inappropriate”. Some
public officials resorted to beating journalists, as was the case of a District Commissioner from
the Eastern district of Machinga who beat journalist Wyford Banda of Zodiak Broadcasting
Station (ZBS) for seeking his comments on the 2008 national population census.

State of the media
On a positive note, the Media Council of Malawi (MCM), which was resuscitated in early 2007,
got a further boost when it became incorporated as a legal entity by the Malawi government.
MCM’s presence on the scene provides an opportunity for self-regulation of the media and
enhancement of professionalism through various avenues, such as alternative dispute resolution
rather than resorting to the courts of law.
The battle to pass the Access to Information Bill rages on. Progress on the bill has been made,
despite the process having dragged on for some years. MISA Malawi is playing a pivotal role
in the process and the Ministry of Information has since submitted the bill to the Ministry of
Justice and Constitutional Affairs to prepare a cabinet paper. However, caution needs to be
taken despite the success recorded so far. Firstly, the bill may not receive priority attention in
Parliament within the current term, which expires around March 2009. The current government suffers a Parliamentary minority and the opposition has its own grievances that it wants
prioritised to the extent that days can pass with little progress on deliberations. Secondly, all key
players in the final stages of the legislative process are likely to be focusing on electioneering
ahead of the Parliamentary and presidential polls on May 19, 2009.
The executive arm of government banned live coverage of Parliamentary proceedings by
the state broadcaster, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), and Malawi Television
(TVM), stating that the language used in the house was sensitive. This move has denied people
the opportunity to access information by following proceedings of the house and monitoring
the performance of their representatives. The decision appeared excessive and to some extent
ironic, since MBC continues to use excerpts of the same verbal debates in Parliament in some
of its satirical programmes, such as Makiyolobasi.

State of broadcasting
The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) regulates the broadcasting
So This Is Democracy? 2008


Media Institute of Southern Africa

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