By Mandy Pondani:
Journalists in the country have called on Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa)- Malawi Chapter to drag Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) to court following its failure to lift the ban on phone-in programmes for all local broadcasting stations three weeks ago.
Macra suspended the programmes, citing alleged unethical and careless reporting of post-election events by most broadcasters, which the authority said could incite people into violence.
But despite engaging Misa-Malawi and other media stakeholders, Macra remains adamant on reversing the decision.
Macra Director General, Godfrey Itaye, Sunday said they would make their position on the matter known to the public in due course.
“We are still engaging stakeholders and we will release a press statement,” Itaye said.
Mzuzu University communication lecturer, Wanangwa Tembo, said, considering the manner in which Macra was handling the issue, legal redress could be the most effective route.
“As journalists, we can also take to the streets and demand our freedom. The other option, and perhaps, the most effective one, is to seek legal redress. In this country, it seems our Judiciary is trying its best to uphold freedoms and rights of people,” Tembo said.
But journalist Horace Nyaka observed that court action may not be an end in itself unless all stakeholders placed necessary mechanisms to ensure that radio phone-in programmes were not abused to perpetrate violence and hate speech.
“What are the radio stations saying? What measures have they [put in place] to ensure that phone-in programmes are handled properly without breaking the law? Macra needs to engage Misa and radio stations to find a solution. I am sure that, if we sit down and talk, a solution that is acceptable and productive would be found,” Nyaka said Misa-Malawi Chairperson, Tereza Ndanga, said they were consulting their membership on the next course of action.
“A blanket suspension is not ideal as our members are clearly losing business and freedom of expression is being infringed upon. Some of our members want us to take the legal route but we are still consulting,” she said.
Meanwhile, Association of Women in the Media, through its interim Chairperson, Edyth Kambalame, has condemned Macra, saying silencing voices of the masses in a democracy through curtailing free debate on radio stations poses a threat to press freedom and open democracy.
“Such controls by Macra also expose a growing hostility towards media freedom in the country,” Kambalame said.