Malawi’s Public Broadcasters Going Commercial
Malawi’s two Public Broadcasters; Television Malawi and the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, have defied calls by the private sector and other sectors not to go commercial.
Government announced in September last year that it was toying with an idea to commercialise its two broadcasters after the opposition dominated parliament mockingly gave the two institutions US$0.014 to run its programmes in the 2007/2008 financial year.
Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe said the idea is to make the Television Malawi (TVM) and the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) operate on funds which they generate.
He said in so doing they can do away with political pressure from the opposition which wants to dictate on how the institutions should conduct business.
On January 4, this year, MBC’s Controller of Programmes Geoffrey Kazembe announced that due to commercial pressure it has done away with some of its programmes, which it was running as a social obligation.
However, in reaction to the move, Malawi’s BBC Correspondent Raphael Tenthani wrote in his Sunday Column of January 6, 2007 that by law MBC has no business making money.
“It has a national duty to educate, entertain, and inform; turning MBC into a money-spinner is actually illegal,” declared Tenthani.
But MBC Deputy Director General Bright Malopa had warned after Parliament’s decision that the social responsibility which the broadcasters render to the public will also suffer.
“MBC’s operations are riddled with social responsibilities which are too expensive to run and aired to the public through 43 programme footage a week,” he said.
Initially, the National Assembly vowed never to pass the votes that would give the two institutions its annual budgetary allocations because ‘they are biased towards the government and the ruling party’.
In the 2006/07 budget, opposition parliamentarians cut budgetary allocations for the two broadcasters by half.
Gondwe said had the two institutions commercialised all this would have been “Water under the bridge as consequently there would be no reason for the opposition to reject budgetary allocations to MBC and TVM.”
But when asked how the commercialization tenders will be carried out, Gondwe said ‘it has not reached that stage yet’.
He said the move to commercialise has come about due to problems that have arisen between government and the opposition.
Currently government and the opposition are holding discussions aimed at finding solution to the MBC and TVM saga.
Leader of Opposition United Democratic Front in parliament George Mtafu said the issue of the two national broadcasters is very simple.
“The onus is on government to find a way forward. All we want is professionalism at MBC and TVM; they should stop demonising opposition leaders through and through,” he said.
The National Media Institute of Southern Africa (NAMISA) said commercialisation would not be a good solution.
“The best option is to turn the two state broadcasters into public broadcasters with an independent board,” suggested NAMISA Chairperson Martines Namingha.
He said unlike the current situation where the two broadcasters report to the information minister, the institutions should be reporting to parliament as is the case with the Southern African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Namingha said commercialising the two institutions would compromise its editorial policies as advertisers would have a major influence.
During the 2007 Annual General meeting of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Blantyre, the body’s Regional Governing Council Chairperson Thabo Thakalekoala called on government to stop abusing TVM and MBC.
He urged the Malawi government to transform the institutions into public service broadcasters if they are to effectively contribute to national development.
“Throughout the region, nurturing of vibrant, free and independent media that effectively contributes to national development is being stifled by increasingly overt attempts to regulate and control the media through statutory bodies,” he said.
Thakalekoala also asked the Malawi opposition to give enough resources to the public media.
Malopa had also warned that commercialising the broadcasters would in a way mean massive retrenchment.
He said MBC would part ways with 300 employees out of its 1,500 work force. No one has yet been fired.
Malopa declined to describe the financial position of the broadcaster saying such information can only be made available to the registrar of companies.
MBC and TVM inform the public, provide information and amusement, generate ideas, mobilise political, economic developmental and social action groups.
Tags: Malawi , Broadcaster , Commercial
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