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Macra under fire over MBC U-turn

NGWIRA—The letter was addressed to MBC

Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) has come under criticism for changing its decision to summon Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) to a hearing over breach of ethics and broadcasting regulations.

On February, 20 Macra through its Director General Godfrey Itaye wrote MBC’s Director General Aubrey Sumbuleta, asking the public broadcaster to appear before the authority on Tuesday January, 28 over a broadcast which referred to the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) as a ‘Terrorist Group’ among other breeches.

But in a January 24, 2020 letter, the communications regulator says it has rescinded its decision on grounds that it has gathered new information on the matter that require further investigation.

“We, hereby inform you that Macra has gathered new information on the matter which requires further investigation. We therefore withdraw the earlier letter and will revert in due course for the next course of action,” reads the new letter in part, addressed to the state broadcaster.

When contacted, Itaye said he could not comment as he was at a funeral, referring us to the authority’s spokesperson Clara Ngwira.

“The letter was addressed to MBC and if there is anything else to say, it will be communicated to them,” Ngwira said.

The development, according to political commentator Makhumbo Munthali, substantiates the public perception of alleged political interference at Macra and casual approach towards the state broadcaster.

“I am convinced that the withdrawal has come because of the political pressure, because the terrorism remarks were first made by the president, and if Macra says MBC was wrong it means by implication they are saying the President was also wrong and that might not have landed well within the political rank and file of the ruling elite in this country,” Munthali explained.

He then challenged Itaye and team to furnish the public with the alleged new information which has necessitated further inquiry.

Meanwhile, HRDC lawyer Wesley Mwafulirwa, said his clients are maintaining the K200 million demand from MBC over the ‘terrorist’ remarks which they say were defamatory.

Mwafulirwa said: “With or without the withdrawal, our clients stand by the action, and we will proceed with legal action if the demand is not met by January 27, 2020.”

Not long ago, Political Science Association of Malawi reiterated its call for Parliament’s Media Committee to discharge its oversight duty over Macra and MBC.

President Peter Mutharika was the first to call the rights group ‘Terrorism Group’ back in June 2019, and repeated the same three weeks ago in Lilongwe during the launch of the Agricultural Commercialisation Project.

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