Academics and professionals in political analysis in Malawi under the burner of Political Science Association (PSA) have called for robust reforms at Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in order to rescue the public broadcaster from 'political capture' by the ruling parties.
Minister of Information Mark Botomani (l) with MBC Director General Sumbuleta: MBC has gone back to the biased reporting trends
In a statement titled "Time to rescue MBC from its deteriorating Civility and Unconscionable Political Agency", the PSA observe that political bias and unprofessional conduct was worsening a scenario that required an urgent response to avoid Malawi degenerating into instability given the political impasse currently engulfing the country in which ethnicism and regionalism.
"We are particularly averse to MBC's propagation of narrow political mindedness and careless commentaries that fuel cleavages and divisions. The conduct is a threat to national peace and stability in a country that is evidently more divided than ever before along ethnic and regional lines.
"The commentaries are a dangerous recipe for violent political conflict. Scholarship and reports on violent ethnic conflicts on the African continent are replete with narratives on the roles of broadcasting houses in fanning hostilities and triggering bloodshed," reads part of the statement signed by PSA president Joseph Chunga and PSA Secretary Ernest Thindwa.
The academics also took a swipe at the recent MBC's branding of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) as terrorists arguing that any deliberate transposition of terms from citizen protest to terrorism was not only unfortunate and unacceptable but also a threat to the sustenance of the Bill of Rights and democratic governance.
HRDC organised nationwide demonstrations last week and the radio station, in its news bulletin described the coalition in Chichewa as 'bungwe lazawuchifwamba' which in its literal sense, the statement meant 'HRDC is a terrorist organisation'.
"We further note that the branding of public protests as terrorism by MBC is a continuation of a narrative that was started by President Peter Mutharika in his address to the National Assembly in June 2019 and repeated recently during the launch of the Agricultural Commercialization Project.
"We wish to remind both MBC and the President that citizen protests against any elements of bad governance is a constitutional right and a civic duty of responsible citizen. It comes across as an attempt to create and propagate a negative narrative of critical citizenship and a creation of a premise in the public domain for a potential unlawful crackdown on citizens by the state's instruments of violence" reads the statement dated 22nd January 2020.
The statement also condemns unreservedly "the unprofessional, uncivil and unlawful conduct of MBC and its agents for their misguided and misleading commentary on sexual crimes committed" by officers of the Malawi Police Service in Lilongwe West arguing it was unfathomable that MBC would run a programme that effectively condoned criminal behavior and amounted to an attempt to rationalize these heinous crimes committed by police officers.
"It is in our view - as PSA- that the programme was a deliberate attempt by MBC to create and propagate a counter narrative that serves a very narrow and myopic interest that blocks the quest for justice on the matter", argues Chunga and Thindwa.
The academic dons further observe that the quest for political and institutional reforms at MBC have been thwarted by all political parties especially those who had the chance to run the government by diagnosing problems at MBC while outside government and doing nothing about them while in government.
"The PSA recalls that a few years ago Parliament attempted to compel change in the practices of MBC by denying it a budget allocation. However, the Executive in their usual traversing of rule of law continued to fund the corporation which in turn continued to vilify all voices of reason on its conduct to this day," reads the statement.
PSA then calls for institutional reforms to insulate MBC from political interference by changing its legal status and organizational form from an ordinary statutory corporation under the purview of a Minister of Government, to a public trust with ultimate accountability to Parliament and the People of Malawi and that this should be accompanied by reforms in recruitment and editorial practices.
"We call upon MACRA to rise up to the occasion of being an impartial regulator of the broadcasting industry and exercise lawful oversight over MBC. We call upon the Parliamentary Committee responsible for Media to discharge its oversight duty over MACRA and MBC, support institutional and political reforms,and rescue the institutions from political capture by ruling parties" reads the last part of the statement .
The Political Science Association is a registered entity with a diverse membership of academics and professionals in the fields of political science, political philosophy, political and economic governance, public administration, international relations, public law, public policy analysis, human rights and many other disciplines relevant to the study, analysis and understanding of politics.
The purpose of the PSA is to contribute to political and socio-economic development of Malawi through promoting the study and analysis of politics through research, advocacy and policy dialogue.