Malawi Regulatory Communications Authority (Macra) has threatened to shut down three powerful private broadcasters in the country for allegedly violating their broadcasting licence agreement during the ongoing campaign ahead of fresh presidential elections, a warning which has been rebuked by citizens and commentators.
In a letter on Tuesday, Macra director general Godfrey Itaye says preliminary assessment of some political broadcasts by Mibawa Television, Times Television (TTV), Times radio, Zodiak Broadcasting Station (radio and TV) indicate breaches contrary to section 22 of the second schedule to the Communications Act, 2016.
"Macra will therefore proceed to submit its report to the Broadcasting Monitoring and Complaints Committee (BMCC) for further action in line with rule 54 of the Communictions (Broadcasting) regulations, 2019," says Itaye.
He says Macra is concerned with the broadcasting of indecent, insulting and offensive material by broadcasters during the current political campaign meetings.
BMCC comprises Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), Macra, Malawi Law Society, Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD), National Media Institute for Southern Africa (Namisa), Media Council of Malawi, National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) and the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC).
However, Malawians have angrily reacted in social media platforms, accusing Macra of bias and shielding state broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) which recently showed obscene words against state vice president Saulos Chilima.
University of Malawi (Unima) communications and media policy analyst Jimmy Kainja wondered why Macra is supposed to be an independent body, but it chooses who to punish based on the available regulations and could be working as " a censorship board in the name of a regulator and that is a serious problem."
Macra summoned MBC management to appear before it last Wednesday, May 20 following a complaint filed by lawyers in conjunction with three civil rights society organizations -- Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), Church and Society of the CCAP Livingstonia Synod and Youth and Society (YAS) that asked to take MBC Television and Radio off-air or they would immediately file for an order in the High Court, compelling the regulator to close the public broadcaster until the professional personnel there at are flushed out and duly replaced.
Itaye has told the petitioners that MACRA could not take off-air MBC Television and Radio as per their demand, as doing so is demanding that the regulator goes against natural justice requirements in its governing laws.
Following the public furore that attracted the offensive broadcast, MBC management suspended the culprits, Henry Haukeya, Mercy Zamawa, Kondwani Chinele and a video editor following public outcry for the use of swearwords against Chilima during a news broadcast on Monday evening and also issued a public apology.
In their petition to MACRA, the four complainants had said MBC "is a creature of Parliament and that its broadcasting licence is statutory, per section 108 of the Communications Act".
They further said MBC is denying them and the nation at large their right to credible information and it is leading the country astray, yet MACRA does not appear to take any efforts to enforce the Communications Act against MBC.