Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) says that despite the Commission not assigning an official broadcaster for the May 21 Tripartite Elections like in the past Elections, the country will not be in an information vacuum as all media are free to fully cover entire elections in all the polling centres.
Director of Media Sangwani Mwafulirwa said this at St John of God Hall in Mzuzu on Saturday during a debate held as part World Press Freedom Day commemorations which falls on May 3 every year.
“The Commission has always been proactive in giving out information. The fact that we are not going to have an official broadcaster for the May 21 Tripartite Elections doesn’t mean that there will be room for any blackout of information or any rigging. We will be based at the main Tally center and we will give space to all the media houses in Malawi.
“This does not mean that we will bar any media from broadcasting the elections. All the media houses will be free to place their reporters at all the polling centres in Malawi,” said Mwafulirwa.
The MEC Media Director was responding to a question from the MISA Malawi Chairperson Theresa Temweka Ndanga who asked MEC to assure electoral stakeholders that the lack of an official broadcaster would not compromise the credibility of the May 21 Elections by giving room for rigging due to an information blackout.
And the MEC Media Director has urged journalists to professionally execute their duty duringelections to guard against content that can cause violence during and after the polls.
“There is a need to strengthen our gatekeeping. I just want to urge the media to be professional, be professional in the way you discharge your duties. Be very careful on the way you communicate the unofficial results, make sure you verify. There is a risk of violence if journalists misinform the public.
According to Mwafulirwa, Malawi has recently experienced a massive increase in the number of radio stations to over 60 radio stations which has led to increased coverage of elections, a situation which has reduced the need for a MEC to designate an official broadcaster.
“Even in the absence of the official broadcaster people will still get the updates effectively and timely. We urge the [public that if they see a commissioner issuing results. Now we have a landscape of about 60 radio stations, each of them covering the Commission, we feel that the public will be assisted with all the information.”
And MEC has also called on Malawians to avoid spreading fake news on social media during the long-awaited elections.
“Social media is important as it will keep the election information flowing. We encourage the public that if they see a Commissioner giving official results on radio or on TV then they should know that that is the official position of MEC.
“We should appeal to the public that we must be responsible as we use social media. Don’t give out fake results and do not create documents in the name of MEC. We appeal to the Nation that although they have the freedom to use social media, they should use it wisely,” said Mwafulirwa.
With only 14 days to go before the May 21 Tripartite Elections, the rise in fake news on Facebook and WhatsApp about the Electoral Body, private organizations and candidates has raised concerns about the likelihood of misappropriate use of social media during the coming elections.
Media expert Jimmy Kainja, who is a lecturer at University of Malawi, Chancellor College, is on recording noting that fact that MEC has to choose an official broadcaster is a serious indictment on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) , which by law is meant to operate as a public broadcaster and without any political bias, yet over the years MBC has made itself a partisan broadcaster in favour of the incumbency: “ It does so with utter impunity and it is getting worse and shameful.”
Kainja argues that where there is no official channel of communication, people will always create one.
“It only takes a fairly literate individual with a gadget that is smart enough to do basic tasks on the Internet to create alternative information. If MEC struggled with ‘unofficial results’ on radios in 2014, this time they will also as they will have likes of WhatsApp to deal with. WhatsApp was there in 2014 but not WhatsApp groups and not the same number of people on WhatsApp today—the figures have grown tremendously that its reach in urban areas of Malawi it could rival broadcasting.”Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :