Malawi radios defy Macra’s directive not to cover demos live

Radio stations in Malawi on Thursday went ahead covering live the progress of the nationwide demonstrations despite the ban imposed by the Malawi Communications Regulator Authority (Macra) on the same.

Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) organized the protests in a bid to force President Joyce Banda’s government to reconsider its economic policies which have brought a lot of suffering on Malawians – mostly the recommendations by International Monetary Fund (IMF) to devalue the Kwacha and keep it floating.

Almost all the radio stations which were represented during the protest had their reporters updating their respective audiences on the progress of the demonstrations that were held in a very peaceful manner with no incident of violence.

However information minister Moses Kunkuyu said Thursday that he was happy with the way radio station covered the demonstrations because they didn’t  incite the violence as was the case with July 20, 2011 demonstrations when some protestors turned violent.

Protests organiser John Kapito with consumers as reporters filed reports live from the scenes of protests in Blantyre.-Photo by Jeromy Kadewere

In a brief statement issued Wednesday evening and signed by MACRA’s Director General Charles Nsaliwa which Nyasa Times possess, the communications regulator said covering the protests live would incite violence elsewhere.

The Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa also appealed to all journalists and media houses to exercise highest level of professionalism when covering the protests.

Misa Malawi Chairman Anthony Kasunda said the media should “publish stories that are balanced, fair to all sides and do not promote or insight violence or hatred.”

MACRA closed down three privately owned radio stations in Blantyre for allegedly reporting live the anti-government demonstration against the late president Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration which were held on July 20, 2011.

Radio stations that were affected with the closure were Capital FM, Malawi Institute of Journalism FM and Joy FM. This happened a day after MACRA directed the radio stations to stop broadcasting live reports on the anti-government demonstrations organized by civil society groups which left 20 people dead.

MACRA also ordered ISPs (Internet service providers) to bock Malawi news websites and social media networks in a bid to stop the coordination of demonstrations claiming that such coverage may incite violence.

Nyasa Times experienced massive and repeated distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks that brought down its servers and somehow disrupted its coverage of the protests.

However the U.S. government condemned the blocking of social media networks in Malawi as well as the ban imposed on radio stations.

Then U.S. State Department spokesperson Heide Bronke Fulton said in a statement that  the Malawian government’s attempt to prohibit its citizens from marching and the ban on independent media coverage undermine democracy and the rule of law that Malawians cherish.

Billy Banda, executive director of Malawi Watch, a human rights organization, told Bloomberg on Wednesday that President Banda’s refusal to reverse her policies even as discontent mounts may undermine her support in a national election scheduled for 2014.

“The problem with our president is that she is busy marketing herself, building her profile as Joyce Banda the person, while neglecting the larger picture which is the government,” he is quoted saying. “The reforms are taking time to register positive results and this is frustrating many Malawians. The euphoria people had after she took over government has waned. If she is not careful, this will cost her dearly.”

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