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Three FM Stations in Malawi Temporarily Silenced

  • Lameck Masina

Broadcasters say police shut down stations during anti-government demonstrations

In Malawi, three privately owned radio stations in Blantyre were taken off the air Thursday for five hours before being allowed to resume broadcasts.

They are Capital FM, Malawi Institute of Journalism FM and Joy FM.

The editor in chief of Capital Radio, Alaudin Osman, said Thursday morning he received reports from the radio’s technicians about an unusual incident at the transmitting site in Mpingwe. The guards there said people claiming to be policemen had stormed the premises and ordered the transmitter to be shut down.

The guards said they were told if there were any questions, radio owners should contact the police.

But police officials said they know nothing about the incident.

Government warning

The development came a day after the Malawi Communications regulatory Authority [Macra] directed the radio stations to stop broadcasting live reports on the anti-government demonstrations organized by civil society groups.

Capital FM owner Alaudin Osman and sub-editor Chikondi Juma in Blantyre, Malawi

Capital FM owner Alaudin Osman and sub-editor Chikondi Juma in Blantyre, Malawi

“They told us to stop broadcasting live events and interviews as they were unfolding,” said Osman. “Our argument was that we have to do this because we are informing people and doing it professionally and in an ethical manner to get people to avoid danger spots. Tires were being set on fire, roads were being blocked, armed police were surrounding marchers and demonstrators, and we thought our reports were helping ordinary citizens to avoid danger.”

“Apparently,” he added, “the material we were putting out was aggravating the situation.”

Sparring partners

Capital Radio is trying to find out why the three stations were shut down without prior notification to management, said Osman. “We lost a considerable amount of business over the course of the day, so we are taking this up with our lawyers.”

Osman said this is the first time his station has disagreed with authorities, whom he called “sparring partners.”

“I’ve had meetings with MACRA on several occasions and they’ve threatened to punish the station. Fortunately, good sense [usually] prevails and we are still broadcasting.”

Although he adds, “getting switched off is quite a nuisance.”