The Malawi media has been commended for their professionalism to achieve robust and inquisitive coverage in the just conducted court sanctioned fresh presidential elections by a consortium comprising of the National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) Public Trust, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), the Public Affairs Committee and the Mhub.
But the civil society group has lambasted state run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) for favoritism.
Briefing the press at Sunbird Mount Soche in Blantyre, the consortium’s Chairperson, Boniface Chibwana said media coverage of the electoral process was robust especially by private and faith-based and community media houses.
“However, despite improving the policy and legal framework through amendments to electoral laws (2015), Communications Act (2016) and Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act (2016), the state broadcaster, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation persisted in its biased coverage in favour of the ruling party,” said Chibwana from a jointly prepared statement.
The chairperson said in addition to conventional bias, the state-media house sank as low as it engaged in modification of facts, fabricating counter narratives, misinforming the nation and being uncouth and obscene in their language and publications on opposition politicians adding that mention of opposition parties and candidates on MBC outlets was mostly for negative publicity and ridicule.
He emphasised that MACRA has been unable or unwilling to take action against MBC as both institutions appear to have been politically captured and repurposed in the service of the DPP regime pointing out that in sharp contrast with the 2019 elections MACRA did not track and publish coverage of political party election activities as was done in previous elections.
“This omission of duty means that the Electoral Commission and other election stakeholders were left without systematic quantitative evidence of unfair coverage or access to public media by all parties and candidates as required by electoral law,” said Chibwana.
Turning to the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), the consortium observed that the implementation of section 63(2) of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act was sub-optimal as per expectation of furthering democratic ideals is concerned.
The section provides that MEC may, on arrangement with the MBC, allocate time on television and radio during which political parties and candidates may be allowed to speak in campaigning for an election, allocate equal time to every party.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that this was complied with or that there were any attempts to comply with this. iii. The consortium observed that so far the best remedy MEC has provided upon receiving complaints on the conduct of MBC in relation to the election is to issue cautionary letters to MBC and rely on goodwill for compliance,” Chibwana said.
The consortium further observed that the social media turned out to be a double-edged sword during the elections in that, while it widely and quickly spread official communications about the elections, prompting transparency and responsiveness of duty bearers in the process, it was also abused to spread fake news
Chibwana said civic education of voters had low Civil Society Organisation (CSO) involvement in monitoring, mass mobilization and civic and voter education for the FPE was low.
“The CSO sector has continued to face severe resource constraints for purposes of civic education since suspension of the basket fund that had been created for this purpose. Media reports on unofficial results suggest that voter turnout and the number of null and void votes in the FPE may be significant,” he says.
Adding, “This appears to be a direct result of the limited reach of CSOs to carry out tailored civic education for the FPE as the political landscape changed significantly. The consortium will carry out a detailed analysis when official data is made available to identify areas where voter turn-out and null and void votes have best worst and identify explanatory factors that should be addressed for future elections.”
The consortium recommended that electoral stakeholders led by the Ministry of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development and the Electoral Commission should review the design and implementation of the civic and voter education basket fund and come up with a revised but sustainable financing model for civic and voter education.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :