Radio Still Matters in Malawi
Victor Kaonga 01 May, 2008 10:15:00
This weekend, the whole world is celebrating World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) with a global appeal to free the media in China. According to information on its website, the WPFD "serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics."
Since 1993 when the UN General Assembly declared 3rd May as WPFD, journalists in different parts of the world undertake various activities highlighting and celebrating the media freedoms under which they operate. Sadly the WPFD is often a reminder of how governments restrain and suppress the media from doing their job freely. I salute all colleagues who have fought and suffered at the hands of enemies of media freedom.
While colleagues from many parts of the world gather in Maputo, Mozambique, to mark World Press Freedom Day, I want to turn my attention to radio matters in Malawi. As you will notice, the radio sector in Malawi constitutes probably about 70 percent of mass media. The radio industry has not only been very dynamic but also very controversial especially in the last ten years. But the background to this is equally interesting.
Historically, there have always been strategic reasons for setting up radio stations. In the late 40’s when radio was introduced in Nyasaland and the two Rhodesias, writes Samwilu Mwaffisi of Zambia, the colonial masters, wanted to inform the "Africans in the country about the progress of the Second World War.
Enter MBC in 1964; exit the Federal Broadcasting Services of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the purposes could not have been different. Were they? May be.
One communications scholar Paul de Vaeur has stated, that Malawi like other former British colonies looked at broadcasting as "the most effective means of interpreting government policy to the people, of spreading Christianity among the Africans, of teaching English, and of improving the life of women." May be there is some truth in this statement as it relates to the thirty years when broadcasting was under one-party rule.
The state radio was our pride and we believed whatever we were told. "Tamva pa wayalesi" (we have heard from the radio) so goes the popular expression justifying the credibility of radio.
Currently one would say we still believe what radio says a lot. And Lilongwe-based Zodiak Broadcasting Services’ promo Zikachitika Mumvera Kwa Ife" (You will hear from us when it happens) reinforces the Malawian attitude to radio. May be it is changing.
Growing up in a very rural area in hills of Viphya, all I knew was MBC as it greeted us with Kwacha Kwayera and run programmes to the epilogue at 00:10. While in primary school I enjoyed the weekly Let the Mbumba Sing programme. This programme was marvelously done, in praise of the father and founder of the Malawi nation Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. The voices in the songs were marvelous and I should say I miss the music.
Every effort to have other broadcasters seems not to have worked. It is only recently that I came to learn that the MBC MEMA studios in Lilongwe was/is actually property of the Nkhoma Synod of the CCAP. So it seems the vision of having a station during the days of Kamuzu did not materialize as it was taken over. Ask what MEMA actually stands for! Modern Evangelism Methods for Africa.
MBC formed my world of the media until the late 80's and early 90’s when I learnt that in some countries there is a plurality of the media.
There are lots of great things that MBC did for the good of the country and it could be naïve for one not to acknowledge that role. However there was a bad side that probably most of us only started recognizing at the introduction of multi-party politics.
Exit the single-party state, enter multiparty with a democratically elected president Bakili Muluzi in 1994. Could the broadcasting be any different?
I wondered why the first FM station in multi-party Malawi could not air news. When Radio ABC in Lilongwe was introduced in 1995, it was limited to gospel messages and music and the station did everything to keep away from anything political and play it safe. I thought this was multiparty time and if they wanted they could start offering that after all students were taught journalism and communication.
Many admired getting to ABC because of the communication courses (minor) that they offer after all such courses were not easy to find in Malawi at the time. So while in a new Malawi we had only 2 radio stations until 1998 when new ones came on the scene. Around this time, came the Communications Act out of which the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) was born. But why it took the entire long to have this regulatory body in place is another tough question about media development in a so-called democratic Malawi.
Congrats to Malawi TV for clocking 9 years this month. Finally we had television in Malawi yet our neighboring countries had one much earlier. Of course at this age we could have been seeing more programmes and more hours on air of local content but that is still a dream. Unfortunately some Malawians are not as proud of our first TV station largely because of how it is used by politicians.
So sad that it has the whole parliament last year did not even want to give any money to the state broadcasters. Otherwise the TV is a medium we are proud of at least in that screen, we can see our artists, our relatives, our village, our minibuses when we are in problems, church building, mosques, the new bridges, ourselves, etc. If television was very vibrant, may be it could have taken over radio audiences.
The interesting thing is that in multi-party we have the opposition political parties who complain about abuse of such state media. And they have a point which also proves the very value of such media because none of the three main political parties in Malawi can claim to be clean of influencing state media when they were in control. The MCP has its history, came the UDF has its own image and now DPP.
During the reign of Bakili Muluzi as president, there was heavy praise for the leadership in state media. The trend continues and is probably necessary for the politics of the day.
Sembe Gondwe captured it well in a Nyasa Times article stating "When Atcheya went into marriage with Musician soldier Lucius Banda people thought he was crazy. Banda went on to sing the hit single ‘Yellow’, a song that campaigned heavily for UDF and the Now Mose Wa Lero. Talking about Mose Wa Lero, he is Mose Wa Lero because Joseph Nkasa sang the same."
Radio stations especially were and are the primary channels for playing the music. How different are the perceived purposes of such songs from the reign of Let the Mbumba Sing?
In the days of Kamuzu, it was rare to hear the head of state on air but it is no longer the case now. While this is good, I look forward to the day when the president or cabinet ministers can avail themselves fully to all media for live programmes where they can answer people’s questions without having the staged programming. This should be extended to other stations and MBC alone.
The people in towns with good FM coverage may easily tune in to other radio stations. That is where they can get an alternative views or voices. But I am sure it is only MBC that has fully national coverage so it is the only one reaching those pockets that the private media don’t touch. It is common knowledge that radio is cheaper and more user-friendly in Malawi. While some people can afford a newspaper, the numbers that read are far too few and concentrated in towns where their offices and personal money enable them get a copy of the dailies and weeklies.
Today with about 19 FM outlets in the country, one would see how "blessed" Malawi is with a diversity and hopefully plurality of media. Apart from the state channels Radio 1 and 2, some of the radio stations have been established for faith reasons (and they are in majority) while others tend to have commercial interests or education in mind. Whatever mission is there, it is encouraging to see we have a variety of radio stations.
According to Article 19, diversity in broadcasting "implies pluralism of broadcasting organizations, of ownership of those organizations, and of voices, viewpoints and languages within broadcast programming as a whole." If this is anything to go by in Malawi, we have to ask ourselves if our diversity implies "the existence of a wide range of independent broadcasters and programming that represents and reflects society as a whole."
So another Internet radio for Malawi has been launched adding the number to six of Malawian radios with online presence. I listened to Radio Chambo (www.radiochambo.com) a few days ago and it adds to the value of radio for Malawi and beyond. Its language, content, format, etc tells our own story about Malawi.
With 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections coming, radio stations may change their tunes to fulfill a certain agenda. However objectivity, credibility and independence among other media principles will vindicate their image and identity in today’s Malawi and beyond. Creating trust in your listener takes time but with a few seconds of biased broadcast, you may turn his or her attention to another station.
Radio in Malawi remains an important mass medium as among others, it is a tool for gaining and controlling power, sharing the faith, strengthening democracy, gaining prominence, civic education, earning money and also a reminder of how much more development we are supposed to have. As radio continues to matter to Malawians, let the broadcasters be encompassing and meet the needs of the listeners who are ever there and loyal.***
Catholic Bishops censure Malawi state radio
Josh Ashaz 11 May, 2008 12:09:00
Malawi national broadcaster MBC has been highlighted in pastoral letter issued by Catholic Bishops on Sunday that it promotes hate-filled messages in the run-up to next year’s general elections.
Human rights groups have continuously condemned state run MBC and TV Malawi for their propaganda programmes which broadcasts hate messages against the opposition.
The Bishops said they are concerned with some programme on the public media and mentioned Makiyolobasi, Mizwanya and Kuganizira Dziko as contributing "political intolerance and demonisation of certain individuals in our society." The Bishops appeal: "We therefore call upon the concerned parties to consider seriously curtailing such programs or giving them a different direction and orientation."
The letter also cited other programmes from private station such as Kalibu, Boiling Pot and Tiphunzitsane Mtundu. "All media houses should avoid language that may breed hatred and cause violence," said the Bishops statement read out in all catholic parishes on May 11. The Bishops pledged that they would lead by example by ensuring that the Church’s radios stations; Radio Maria and Radio Alinafe will observe impartiality.
They all also called on authorities to ensure that all political players in the next year’s general elections should be given equal access to public media. "Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) being charged as a watchdog for media practice, should enforce strict observance of the code of ethics by the media."
They also bemoaned the use of "divisive, abusive and violent language" by the print media. "While we applaud the talent and creativity that is mushrooming in the media, we are wary of the fact that such talent and creativity can be a disservice to the country if not guided properly," said the Bishops.
Archbishop Tarcizio G. Ziyaye, Bishop Remi G. Ste-Marie, Bishop Alessandro Pagani and Bishop Joseph Zuza have signed the pastoral letter. Others who have signed are Bishop Peter Musikuwa, Bishop Thomas Msusa, and Bishop Emmanuel Kanyama.
12 maggio 2008
Malawi, dove la radio vale il 70% dei media
Due articoli del Nyasa Times (il Nyasaland era il nome coloniale dell'attuale Malawi) parlano della storia della radio nella nazione africana dove "radio equivale a circa il 70 percento dei media" e della sua importanza come strumento di formazione del consenso. L'episcopato cattolico del Malawi ha appena pubblicato una lettera pastorale che invita l'emittente di stato MBC a non incitare all'odio interetnico in previsione delle elezioni del 2009. Al momento ci sarebbero una ventina di emittenti FM in tutto il paese e ci sarebbero già sei Web radio. Una lista parziale è questa, curata dalla Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority. Purtroppo, la frequenza di 3380 kHz (variabili) che secondo la lista Africa On Shortwave si sentiva bene fino al 2002 risulta spenta da allora.