HRDC, lawyer Msowoya and two others petition MACRA to suspend MBC broadcasting services

By Duncan Mlanjira

Lawyer Nicely Msowoya in conjunction with three civil rights society organizations — Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), Church & Society of the CCAP Livingstonia Synod and Youth & Society (YAS) — have petitioned Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) to take Malawi Broadcasting Corporation off air for broadcasting offensive vulgar comments that targeted Vice-president Saulos Chilima.

The country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima

Through lawyers, Jivason & Company, the four parties say if MBC TV and Radio are not taken off air by Friday, 15th May 2020, they shall immediately file for an order in the High Court, compelling MACRA to close MBC until the professional personnel there at are flushed out and duly replaced.

MBC management has since 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.

Lawyer Nicely Msowoya

The four petitioners say that MBC “is a creature of Parliament and that its broadcasting licence is statutory, per section 108 of the Communications Act”.

“Although MBC is a statutory licence under the Communications Act, this statutory licence is revocable by MACRA under section 43 of the Communications Act in circumstances, like the one in question herein, where MBC has breached its obligations.

“Our clients have noted that MBC has gone overboard in contravening its statutory duties under the Communications Act.

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“MBC is perpetually in breach of its public service obligations under the Act and the broadcaster has clearly shown the whole world that it has no respect for human rights, rule of law and the Constitution, as required of it under section 109 of the Communications Act.”

They further say 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.

“It is on the foregoing grounds that our clients demand the immediate suspension of of provision of broadcasting services by MBC, until such a time that the unprofessional members of staff including its secretariat and Board are placed by competent and professional individuals,” says the petitioners.

Meanwhile, MACRA has issued a statement that it has “commenced action against MBC in line with the Communications Act and its Regulations and has, therefore, given MBC a statutory notice of seven (7) days to make representations on the preliminary findings of breach as stipulated under regulation 32(3)(e) of the Communications (Telecommunications and Broadcasting Licensing) Regulations, 2016.

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MACRA furthers reminds broadcasters of their duty to ensure equitable allocation of airtime and avoid hate speech, abusive and inflammatory language especially during the official campaign period. 

“MACRA shall continue discharging its broadcasting monitoring mandate during this election period and shall not hesitate to invoke regulatory action against any broadcaster, including MBC, who will be in breach of the Communications Act and its Regulations.”

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In the statement’s preamble MACRA said it noted, with grave concern, MBC TV’s news bulletin during prime time on Monday and acknowledges that the aired material is deemed indecent, obscene and offensive to public morals contrary to section 22(a) of the Second Schedule to the Communications Act.

And MBC also failed to exercise due care and responsibility in the presentation of the material where a large proportion of the audience is likely to be children contrary to section 22(c) of the said Schedule.

Aubrey Sumbuleta (left), MBC’s director general

“MACRA wishes to remind MBC and all broadcasters to refrain from  using such material as above and strictly observe the Broadcasting Code of Conduct as outlined in the Second Schedule to the  Communications Act during any broadcasts. 

“MACRA further reminds all broadcasters that, as signatories to the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters during Elections, they must strictly adhere to this Code.

MBC has since apologized for the broadcast saying it was an oversight on the part of culprit staff.

Ndanga, MISA Malawi Chapter chairperson 

However, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter says though MBC management has apologized, the broadcast was not only shameful but a serious attack on journalism and Malawi’s moral standards.

Chairperson Teresa Ndanga urged individual journalists at MBC to rise above partisan journalism and embrace a culture of professionalism and integrity to safeguard their own career, media freedom and independence.

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MISA has also asked MACRA to discipline MBC and ensure the station is professional and operates according to the provisions of the Communications Act.

It further says Parliament should also take concrete steps that would guarantee non-partisan programming at MBC at all times.