Malawi’s Public Service Broadcaster (MBC) has vowed to continue pursuing revenues from advertisers rather than depend on state funding. The MBC says it must try to ensure its own survival after Parliament refused to fund it for the second year in a row. The legislators accuse it of bias in its coverage of important political issues. MBC officials deny the allegations.From Blantyre, VOA reporter Lameck Masina has the story.
Malawi’s parliament, dominated by the opposition, allocated a symbolic one cent each to the MBC and the country’s TV station, Malawi Television. With that, it met its responsibilities under the law that prohibits the Parliament from denying all financial support without holding a vote.
As for the broadcasters, the law allows only limited advertising and focuses on what it calls the “social responsibility” required of MBC, the only broadcaster that receives public funding.
Bright Malopa is the deputy director of the network. He says without the government subventions, or subsidies, the station will need to meet its operating expenses by increasing competition with private stations for advertisers.
"We do carry out a lot of programs," he says, "and a lot of them were being produced on the strength of money that we were getting through subventions. Now that we don’t have those subventions it means that somebody has to sponsor. This has forced us into a position where we have to put our commercial interest first in the process ignoring our social responsibilities.”
Malopa says this will lead put the large and better-established state broadcaster in direct competition with small private stations that depend on advertising funds.
"My only worry," he says, "is that if the situation continues like that, we may be seeing the situation where MBC will be the only dominant force because other radio stations are going to close down."
Malopa says MBC tries to provide balanced news but has trouble getting the opposition’s viewpoint because most opposition politicians refuse to be interviewed by its journalists.
For example, he says, the chairperson of the Business Committee of Parliament, Atupele Muluzi, also a parliamentarian for the opposition United Democratic Front, refused to talk to an MBC journalist.
The reporter was seeking Muluzi’s comment on allegations that he wrote the World Bank asking it to stop funding the Malawi government because of what he called financial mismanagement by government officials.
opposition politicians accuse MBC of twisting information to suit the interests
of the ruling party – a charge the MBC denies.
In August a meeting involving Ministry of Information, the Media Committee of Parliament and a local media watchdog, the Media Council of Malawi aimed to end the standoff between the broadcasters and the opposition politicians.
They ordered MBC to stop airing programs targeting opposition leaders like Makiyolobasi, Mizwanya, and Mpungwepungwe Pa Ndale.
But MBC says it is now considering bringing the programs back especially those that were assisting the corporation in revenue collection. Since last year MBC has been selling compact discs and cassettes as one way of boosting its revenue.
Patricia Kaliati is Malawi’s minister of information. She says she supports the move.
“If you (MBC) are raising funds from that program, please go ahead," she told the press. "I have got no problem with that, provided it is to the needs of the people.”
recent newscasts MBC has been airing views of people demanding the return of
the suspended programs. But political analysts say that would increase the
acrimony between the opposition and government politicians.
The Media Council of Malawi says the withholding of funding to the broadcasters is not only a violation of freedom of expression but also untimely, as the country prepares for the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections.
It says the
parliamentarians should have found other ways of encouraging balance and
impartial coverage rather than trying to cripple MBC’s operations.
In 2006, Parliament approved only half of the annual subventions to the broadcasters.