and telecommunications industry in Malawi. As of December 2008 there were 23 licensed
broadcasters in Malawi. The radio category accounts for 20, including one state-owned radio.
The country has three licensed television stations: one state-owned and two privately owned by
the Catholic and All for Jesus churches. The latter was licensed in March 2008 and is expected
to be on air by May 2009. The large number of privately owned radio stations, in particular,
provides a wide choice for people to access information of interest.
However, the state broadcaster was once again denied public funding by the opposition-dominated Parliament, citing biased coverage as the reason. “It doesn’t matter how much you weep:
the funding for these two unusually primitive organisations cannot pass. Not in this house,” a
senior opposition legislator, George Ntafu was quoted as saying. Mtafu was a cabinet minister
until 2004, under whose regime these two institutions did not perform any better but got the
funding anyway. It is, therefore, easy to conclude that the decision is not in the interests of the
greater good but rather a show of political muscle. The finance mnister could only allocate
the nominal one Malawi Kwacha (a tenth of one United States cent) to the state broadcaster.
By denying the two broadcasters access to public finances, Parliament displayed a lack of
moral high-ground, considering that the two institutions have a legal obligation towards the
public to provide information, education and entertainment on a range of social issues such as
health, HIV and AIDS, agriculture and many more. MBC and TVM enjoy the widest coverage
in their respective categories.
On the flipside, the two state broadcasters have not helped themselves by taking initiatives that
put them directly in the firing line. Some of the programming, such as the satirical Makiyolobasi
and the panel discussion show Mizwanya, has clearly displayed the broadcasters’ agenda to
demonise opposition leaders. For instance, Makiyolobasi uses the voices of opposition leaders
and portrays them as villains. This should, to some extent, explain the anger in Parliament.
Both the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and MACRA cautioned the two broadcasters
during the course of the year (March and June respectively) on broadcasts that were perceived
to promote hate speech or offensive language.
Private radio stations provide an alternative to the state broadcasters despite their limitations
in terms of infrastructure and coverage. Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) stands out among
those whose main target is the rural audience. The station scooped an international award on
human rights reporting during the year. Joy FM, on the other hand, had a fair share of tribulations as its relationship with MACRA degenerated into a cat-and-mouse chase. On October
17 MACRA ordered Joy FM to stop broadcasting. It was only served by the courts and was
back on air two days later. When MACRA challenged the ruling, silence once again engulfed
the airwaves of Joy FM on November 20, after the High Court threw out the station’s injunction barring MACRA from shutting it down. Once again Joy was saved by the court following
the Supreme Court’s ruling in early December pending a judicial review. Joy FM is in a very
precarious position due to its ties with former President Bakili Muluzi, a prominent opponent
of the government.
The community radio sector is still under-developed and yet it provides great potential for
strengthening grassroots democracy. Malawi has four community radio stations.
The Communications Act of 1998 is overdue for revision following the experiences in its
application. It needs to be realigned with the Communications Sector Policy on a number of
areas such as the definition of a community radio and the status of private satellite television.

So This Is Democracy? 2008


Media Institute of Southern Africa

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