Malawi: Radio Station claims harassment by regulator MACRA

Regulation & Policy

The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) has summoned Joy Radio Limited, owned by former President Bakili Muluzi, and the state broadcasters Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and Television Malawi (TVM) for breaching the Broadcasting Services Code of Conduct.

A letter to Joy Radio dated 30 May 2008 and signed by MACRA Director General Allexon Chiwaya, lists five charges against the station. The letter further states that Joy Radio's reports relating to government and the president are "not truthful, accurate and objective, contrary to the requirements of Section 3(1) of the Broadcasting Services Code of Conduct".

"You have used your private (commercial) sound broadcasting licence predominantly for the advancement of the political views and agenda of the United Democratic Front and Dr. Bakili Muluzi, as opposed to doing so for the making of profit and the advancement of the financial interests of the owners of Joy Radio Limited, contrary to the purpose and interest of the licence," reads the letter, in part.

In response, in a 4 June letter to MACRA, Joy Radio's lawyer, Ralph Kasambara, argues that the letter to his client is too general, and asks MACRA to be more specific. Kasambara says his client charges customers for their services and that Muluzi and the United Democratic Front (UDF) are paying customers of his client's.

According to Joy Radio's manager Peter Chisale, MACRA is merely looking for an excuse to close the station. MACRA Public Relations Manager Zadziko Mankhambo said MBC and TVM had also been summoned, based on complaints from the public and MACRA's monitoring unit, which noticed the breach of the Broadcasting Services Code of Conduct by the two institutions in some of their programmes.

The summons to Joy Radio comes amid declarations by Information and Civic Education Minister Patricia Kaliati that the station is "political" in its conduct and that MACRA should withdraw its licence.

This is not the first time Joy Radio has clashed with MACRA. In early 2007, the station challenged the composition of the MACRA board, arguing, among other things, that some of the appointed members lacked qualifications, expertise and experience in the field of telecommunications and broadcasting. Subsequently, on 13 July 2007 High Court Judge Frank Kapanda ruled for the dissolution of the MACRA board, as then comprised. On 29 October 2007 Joy Television, a sister company to Joy Radio and linked to former president Bakili Muluzi, was prohibited from broadcasting by MACRA, which argued that the station's licence had expired.

MBC and TVM, on the other hand, have been accused of promoting the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) party's propaganda and of continually castigating the opposition. In 2007, the opposition-dominated Parliament denied the two institutions funding from the national budget, citing "biased reporting towards government and DPP" as one of the reasons. The main opposition Malawi Congress Party has also threatened that in 2008, MBC and TVM will not be funded.

On 2 June 2008, MCP Spokesperson on Parliamentary Affairs Ishmael Chafukira said his party hoped that, having been denied funding in 2007, the MBC and TVM would endeavour to improve, but that, instead, the practices of the two broadcasters have deteriorated and, therefore, they do not deserve support from the national budget.

(Media Institute of Southern Africa,(Windhoek)