If there is an institution that Malawians yearn to be transformed, it is Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). Even during the Anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations, reform of MBC was one of the themes that protesters raised. The public broadcaster has completely lost direction. At no time has the corporation stooped so low and reduced itself to a party broadcasting station than during the DPP government. It was operating like a guerrilla radio station fighting an enemy located in a thick forest and bombarded it with propaganda messages at every turn. It has excess baggage that should be shed off.
Announcers turned themselves into party officials defending DPP to teeth [even foolishly] and vilifying opposition leaders and insulting them without an iota of shame. What is more irking is that management was enjoying the unbecoming behaviour of announcers who were masquerading as news analysts. The inept board chaired by Rev Billy Gama share much of the blame for failing to assert its oversight role over the operations of MBC. It tolerated the unprofessional behaviour to the level it became irrelevant.
The newly appointed Minister of Information and Civic Education Gospel Kazako has sent the right signal to MBC employees that reforms are on the cards. Like any restructuring process, some people will find themselves on the streets just as ‘it is difficult not to crush ants when you turn a stone’
Reforms at MBC should take several forms. Board members should be competent to provide an oversight role over management. While the trend has been to fill the board with party supporters or those close to party leaders, this should now be discouraged. It will be another vicious circle! The president should hire men and women from diverse background as guided by Section 112 of the Communication Act (2016) and let the board operate without interference from the executive or political party.
In line with Section 117 of the Communications Act, the board of MBC and NOT the president must appoint the Director General (who is the CEO) on merit. The job has to be advertised and the appointment ‘shall only be based on qualification, experience and capacity.’ In Malawi, successive governments from UDF to DPP have been flouting this important provision.
Presidents have been appointing the different CEOs against the law. Sadly, civil society, the Law Society, the opposition and other interest groups have paid a blind eye to the illegal appointments and allowed presidents to get away with their actions instead of challenging the presidents in court to reverse the unlawful appointments. The worst appointment happened during UDF era when Sam Mpasu, (Rip) then Minister of Information, appointed his personal assistant Wilson Pankuku (Rip) to be Director General.
President Chakwera and Tonse Alliance should resist the temptation to go the route of the previous presidents and set a good example to uphold the law and let the board recruit the CEO. Political appointees usually perform badly and undermine the board because they feel they are responsible to the president who appointed them and not the board. They are puffed up with pride and arrogance. And we wonder why CEOs are cadets serving their political masters and not Malawians.
The CEO and all the employees need to dutifully embrace the mandate of MBC as a public service broadcaster as enshrined in Communications Act, Part XIV (Section 109-110). Among the important obligations are for MBC to encourage free and informed opinion on all matters of public interest; reflect the wide diversity of Malawi’s cultural life and function without any political bias and independently of any person or political bias.
The mandate necessarily calls for all staff from the CEO to other operating officers to be properly qualified for the various roles. They should uphold the law and refuse to be used by politicians. We have seen how this mandate has been thrown into Lake Malawi over decades because of political interference and some foolish announcers who allow themselves to be used by politicians for political gain. There should be a drastic shift in the working culture.
Management need to review a code of ethics and draft stringent rules to stop employees from being used by politicians or behaving like a political party spokesperson. One way to prevent this is not to allow announcers to be master of ceremonies at political rallies or government functions. They easily lose their heads and turn themselves into party cadres or speak like a party official. If it is a party function, let a designated party official lead. If it is a government function, let a government official moderate the proceedings.
The reforms will be incomplete if MBC does not open up to other ethnic groups to broadcast in their own language. MBC is not like private or community broadcasting that targets a specific audience. MBC as a public broadcaster, (funded by all Malawians through parliament.) with a clear mandate to carry out public service broadcasting which should reflect the wide diversity of Malawi’s cultural life in its broadcasting. The various language groups -Yao, Lomwe, Tumbuka, Sena etc- which represent different cultures, need to share the microphone with the Chewas so that they tell their stories in their own language. Some language groups do not feel part of Malawi because they are sidelined in broadcasting. MCP and Tonse Alliance should rectify this. Government should ensure that other language groups are accommodated as the case with countries like Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia.
Programming is also an area that requires attention. Generally speaking, MBC has poor programmes because many of them have been designed to glorify the president, his wife, his political party or political propaganda, Content and presentation also leave a lot to be desired. Too many repetitive editions.
New informative programmes that embrace our national identity are needed. However, it would be disappointing to design programmes to glorify President Chakwera and Tonse Alliance Movement. It is like replacing DPP with MCP and Tonse Alliance with no real change. Malawians want real change. Management may well conduct an audience research to gauge the type of programmes the audience would like to watch or listen to.
Malawians need a better MBC that would serve everyone regardless of tribe, political affiliation or political beliefs. The reforms are inevitableFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :