The Malawi Institute for Southern Africa (Misa) says it is worried by Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority’s act of revocating broadcasting licences.
Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority has been revoking licences of some broadcasting stations in the country over delays to pay thru annual licence fees, a development that has seen three television and six radio stations being closed.
According to two notices of enforcement action against non-compliant communication licencees that MACRA released on July 14 and 19, 2022 show that, in total, licences for 23 radio stations and six television stations may be revoked by the end of this year.
Reacting to the development, Misa Malawi has described it as a threat to the broadcasting and democratic gains of the country.
“The continued revocation of broadcasting licences by the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) under the current political administration is washing away the media and democratic gains of the past 29 years,” reads part of the statement.
Misa said the issues that are leading to the revocation of licences are not new in the country.
“Past administrations did not close down stations for delaying to pay license fees. We believe the decision not to close down stations was due to respect for fundamental rights including media freedom, access to information and economic rights of hundreds Malawians employed by the affected media outlets.
“Through several platforms and engagements, broadcasters have raised concerns about high annual fees that they have to pay to MACRA, the fees being pegged in US dollars, other monthly fees that they have to pay to MTL and MBDNL and the fact that business has generally not been smooth in the last few years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the general poor performance of the economy,” said added the statement signed by Misa’s Chairperson Tereza Temweka Mtanga.
Misa has blamed Macra for its failure to address concerns of concerns of Covid-19 pandemic and the general poor performance of the economy hence failing to fulfill its mandate of creating a favourable environment for the growth of the sector, a development that leaves Misa with questions on MACRA’s real intentions.
“Despite MACRA’s inaction, broadcasters made efforts to pay in instalments, but MACRA went ahead to revoke lisences even where the final payments had already been made, this leaves us with questions on MACRA’s real intentions, ” added the statement.
Misa said the closure of radio and television stations threatens to lead to decline of Malawi in the media freedom ranking by Reporters Without Boarders.
“Malawi’s Media Freedom ranking by Reporters Without Boarders has already declined for the year 2022. Malawi, which last year recorded a rise in the rankings- thanks to the enactment of its access to information law – recorded a decline from 62 to 80 out of 180 countries that were assessed.
“The closure of radio and television stations threatens to lead to a further decline in the ranking and put a dent on President Chakwera’s administration, especially when looked at from the lens of the campaign promises and the circumstances that led to President Chakwera’s election.
“Misa Malawi respects MACRA’s statutory mandate and broadcasters’ obligations under the Communications Act and other relevant laws of Malawi.
“However, the closure of broadcasting houses is threatening the broadcasting and democratic gains that the country has made since the reintroduction of multiparty system in 1983.
“Malawi has been a model country on pluralism and diversity in the broadcasting sector but all that is being eroded,” said Misa.
Misa said that they cannot underestimate the impact of these revocations on access to information for Malawians, media freedom and the economic well-being of those people losing jobs in the closed stations.
Misa Malawi has there recommended for a win-win situation for MACRA, broadcasters and citizens.
“We would like to ask MACRA, again, to reverse the decisions being made as they are not only retrogressive but are systematically killing the democracy that we have struggled to grow.
“We recommend a measured approach considering the fact that the affected media houses already started clearing their outstanding arrears. Revocation of a licence is too drastic and reactive. There is need for a holistic and proactive approach to ensure that the media survives post the Covid-19 pandemic,” recommend Misa.
Over 250 full-time and part-time media practitioners and support staff have lost jobs at the stations whose licences have been revoked; Rainbow Television (70), Ufulu FM (34), Joy Radio (40), Capital Radio (45) and others are coming from the Sapitwa FM, Galaxy and Angaliba.
Ironically, Chakwera’s administration is championing an agenda of job creation and preserving the available ones through the Ministry of Labour, which unfortunately remained silent on the issue.
The companies are also trying to recover from the woes caused by the Covid-19 pandemic during which many businesses, including the media were affected.