By Audrey Kapalamula & Peter Kanjere:
The fire that destroyed Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL) offices in Lilongwe’s Area 3 on Tuesday evening, has paralysed most television and radio stations, including for Times Group, which are off air in the capital city and other districts.
MTL tower at Area 3 hosts a number of media and telecommunications companies including Times radio and television, Malawi Digital Broadcast Network Limited (MDBNL) Kiliye Kiliye, Trans World Radio, Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) and Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM), just to mention a few.
In a statement released Wednesday, Times Group management acknowledged the impact of the fire on its broadcasting services in Lilongwe and surrounding districts.
“Consequently, radio services and television signal through MDBNL [Kiliye Kiliye] cannot be accessed. Our engineers are working tirelessly to restore normal transmission as soon as possible,” the statement reads.
MDBNL Chief Executive Officer for Malawi Digital Kiliye Kiliye, Dennis Chirwa, said the fire has razed down all equipment they mounted on the tower at MTL premises.
“Our multiplex control system has been burnt. We have lost everything. All operations for television are down. Currently, we are trying to assess in terms of the amount and value of equipment that was there but it should be worth close to $1 million,” he said.
Chirwa said they were working towards resuscitating their operations by, among ways, identifying other alternative means and roll out within seven days.
ZBS Managing Director, Gospel Kazako, Wednesday said they were working around the clock to restore normal broadcasting within the next 24 to 48 hours.
“It has destroyed our most expensive equipment. We are talking about the backbone of our broadcasting such as transmitter, LSTL and receiver. LSTL is a studio transmitter link which receives signal from the station and sends it to transmission point. Fortunately, we have a backup. We are only on air on DStv and online but we should be fully back on air in the next 24 to 48 hours,” Kazako said.
Malawi Broadcasting Corporation Director General, Aubrey Sumbuleta, Wednesday described the fire accident as “a national broadcasting tragedy.”
“A lot of people that use Kiliye Kiliye decoders cannot see us and that is lost audience and lost revenue. For example, in Nsanje, Mzuzu, Zomba and Dowa, when we migrated from analogue to digital, we were being carried on Kiliye Kiliye decoders and now with this fire accident, they cannot see us,” Sumbuleta said.
Lilongwe City Council Fire Officer, Gideon Mwanza, Wednesday said they were called to the scene of the fire accident late and saved some equipment in the transmission section of the MTL building.
“We just demarcated the area to save some equipment in the section that was then not on fire and we saved some cables but the fire damaged 90 percent of the head-end of the facility,” he said.
Mwanza said their preliminary investigation have established that the fire might have been caused by a connectivity fault on one of the electrical appliances.
MTL Corporate Affairs Manager, Tina Das, Wednesday said while they are still assessing the extent of the damage and that efforts are being made to restore some of the parastatal’s operations.
“We haven’t yet established the cause of the fire but we have been focusing on restoring services. After the fire, we started restoring some of the services and by midnight, we had restored Area 1 in Lilongwe and Mchinji. By morning today [yesterday], we have restored for Dedza and small exchange also serving Luanar [Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources],” she said.
Das hoped that the company would restore 80 percent of its services after two days
Meanwhile, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority Director General, Godfrey Itaye, during a press conference held in Lilongwe yesterday, said the cause and cost of the damage are yet to be established.
MTL Chief Commercial Officer, Gladson Kuyeri, said experts will be contacted to establish the cause of the fire.