* MACRA’s stance should be emulated by other government departments such as ESCOM, EGENCO, RBM “and everyone”
* It is when these institutions fail to execute their mandates by the rule book that our economy fails
* If the City Councils close shops such as a liquor shop for not paying for their licence, why should media houses be spared?
By Duncan Mlanjira
The public has supported views of social and political ills commentator, Prof. Betchani Tchereni, which he posted on Facebook applauding Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) for enforcing the law and regulations by revoking licences to non-compliant broadcasters and courier operators.
Tchereni hinted that MACRA’s stance should be emulated by other government departments such as Electricity Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM), Energy Generation Company (EGENCO), the Reserve Bank of Malawi, Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA), public universities, “and everyone”.
“It is when these institutions fail to execute their mandates by the rule book that our economy fails,” Tchereni said. “Media institutions must pay.
“As much as I am worried that people may lose jobs and there might be skewness of news analysis, it is very unheard of for us to be supporting lawlessness. MACRA must be commended for fulfilling its mandate — laws are laws.”
In the past few months, MACRA has been applying its mandates in the communications sector and emphasized that there there is no clandestine motive behind their stance but only acting upon powers vested in the Communications Act.
In the past week, MACRA has revoked content licences for six broadcasters — Ufulu FM, Ufulu Television, Galaxy FM, Joy Radio, Sapitwa FM and Capital FM — for failing to pay annual licence fees.
Other media houses were also acted upon for substantial breach of their licence conditions, which had been accumulating for a very long time.
In his response to Tchereni, Chawezi Banda said past government administration were too lenient in applying the law, adding that as the current leadership is doing what is right, others think it’s witch-hunting.
“If the City Councils close shops such as a liquor shop for not paying for their licence, why should media houses be spared?” he said. “aMalawi tinapusa kwambiri (we Malawians sleep on the job too much”).
Bert Tasosa concurred, adding that “maybe there should be scope to review the licence fee amounts, depending on the business environment that has been sapped by CoVID-19. I doubt if most of those radio and TV stations are making any money.
“I have come across a few radio and TV presenters who are not even taking any salary home, but keep working because it offers them opportunity in their probable next job.”
Stanley Mhango said: “Laws are laws when they are applied equally without taking sides”, to which Jimmy Thembazako responded: “Rule of Law. I was impressed how they handled the Minister’s courier service.”
Thembazako was referring to Minister of Minister of Trade, Mark Katsonga Phiri’s AMPEX Courier Ltd which was sealed off in July and its division manager and an accountant arrested for illegal courier operations.
A statement from MACRA had indicated that its Board approved the renewal of AMPEX Domestic Courier Services licence subject to the company settling its outstanding licence fees and levies amounting to K29,579,418 as well as paying US$5,000 renewal fees.
The company was advised not to operate courier services until they obtain a valid courier licence but AMPEX was still operating courier services, which is illegal under sections 31 and 122 of the Communications Act Cap 68:01 of the Laws of Malawi.
MACRA keeps reiterating that operating any communications or courier services business without a valid licence issued by MACRA is illegal and the regulator shall not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against any perpetrators found engaging in such illegal acts.
Angella Kachelenga also agreed with Tchereni’s views, saying as a country, “we should not tolerate mediocrity”, while Lucas Nkhoma said “MACRA is doing a commendable job. There’s lawlessness in Malawi. These media houses make a lot of money. They must pay — they’re in business.”
Lucius Chigoga hinted that “if what MACRA is doing was done in Zambia, it would have been good breaking news in Malawi — we hate ourselves big time”.
Chigoga was referring to recent social media posts of positive news coming from Zambia under the leadership of President Hakainde Hichilema, who is the seventh president and since his election in August last year, he has made a number of positive economic strides of his country.
According to MACRA, Ufulu FM radio owes the regulator K27.270 million; Ufulu Television K18,1 million; Galaxy K28.893 million; Joy Radio K18,115,982; Sapitwa FM K14.199 million and Capital FM K13.926 million.
Other broadcasters whose licences were revoked included Angaliba Radio, Angaliba Television, Timveni Radio, Radio Maria, Sapitwa as well as Rainbow Television — belonging to Prophet Shephard Bushiri.
MACRA Director General, Daud Suleman maintains that the affected broadcasters are free to apply, in future, for a content licence if they have no outstanding issues with the regulator.