MalawiÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s opposition-dominated Parliament has cut MK360 million (close
to US$3 million) in subsidy for the public broadcasters for alleged
bias in coverage towards the ruling party, writes Samuel Makaka.
Parliament finally passed the 2007/08 national budget after protracted arguments that resulted in several changes, including the removal of all support the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation MBC and Malawi Television TVM.
Parliament last year cut the allocations to MBC and TVM by half because of the same allegations by opposition that the two institutions are being used by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as propaganda machinery to discredit the opposition.
The decision came despite calls from the chair of the parliamentary media committee, Berson Lijenda, a former journalist who is now an opposition MP, that denying MBC and TVM funding may not yield positive results.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œCutting off funding for MBC and TVM is not the answer for the problems of unbalanced coverage of the two institutions. The lasting solution is to amend the Communications Act which is a legal framework binding the conduct of the state media,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Lijenda advised fellow MPs.
Former President, Bakili Muluzi, who has openly been lobbying MPs in his party to shoot down budget votes for MBC and TVM, has openly declared that he wants to stand again in the 2009 general elections.
But the government has hit back at MuluziÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s calls to punish state broadcasters.
Patricia Kaliati, Minister of Information and Civic Education, who is also government spokesperson, said: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThey were in power for ten years and had all the opportunity to make MBC and TVM independent but did not do so because they were benefiting from misusing them. Now they are in opposition and want TVM and MBC to be fair, does it make sense?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Kaliati claims MBC and TVM are now much better than they were during MuluziÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s rule when employees, she claims, were dismissed because of editing out hate speeches and bad language from the former PresidentÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s speeches.
Some employees dismissed on such grounds sought redress from the ombudsman and the MBC has since been ordered to reinstate them.
Jeffrey Msampha, a former MBC news editor, recently accepted that he was dismissed because of editing out strong language from the former President, who enjoyed castigating others on the state radio.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œProfessionally I saw that it was not in the interests of the nation to broadcast speeches that would stir hatred in some people,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â confirmed Msampha.
For the first time in over forty years, the MBC will run without government intervention. MBC management has said they will take several measures to address the situation so that they survive, among them, laying off some employees, dropping some social programmes and engaging in more commercial activities.