Preliminary Report on the Malawian Parliamentary and Presidential election
Elections and the Media
The media play an integral part in the promotion of free and fair elections and is a very critical player in the democratization process.
On a positive note:
The Malawi Electoral Commission with the assistance of the Commonwealth set up an efficient media monitoring component as one of its core structures. This structure has ably collated information on the usage of the respective electronic and print media by the different political parties. There are also laws that regulate this issue via the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act No 310f 1993 and the Communications Act No 41 of 1998. The former in terms of Section 63 (1) (c) charges the Commission with the responsibility of monitoring such news broadcasts and ensure that there is equitable news coverage of the campaign by all political parties. The Communication Act on the other hand charges MACRA with the responsibility of controlling the performance of the media. Malawi besides the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation enjoys a wide coverage of private media in both print and electronic form. Procedures for media coverage of parliamentary and presidential elections have published for easY of use by all media practitioners.
Areas of concern
There has been a major bias by the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation in favour of the ruling party in terms of time allocated which at times has been pegged at 97 percent according to Information collated by the media monitoring component of the commission. The creation of media monitoring component by MEC is cosmetic in that there is no follow up on its findings by the commission. This apparent bias is in keeping with a policy widely publicized by the Executive Director of MBC one Eunice Chimpangula wherein she was saying that they will not publicize any news from the opposition. Thereby all the President's campaign activities throughout the country were broadcast on a daily basis whilst there was no coverage of the other presidential candidates In contravention of the procedures for election alluded to above. There has been no reprimand on the MBC for this pOlicy both from the Malawi Electoral Commission and MACRA. The Commission has largely been seen aS pushing forward its responsibility on this issue to MACRA. Another problem has been the fact that MBC has been commercialized for the other political parties. Whereas the independent media had been widely adjudged as having been fair in its coverage it only has 30 percent coverage of the country when compared to MBC's 100 percent coverage. The print media has been noted as being largely unbiased but the largest newspaper in the country only has a circulation of 15 000 only in urban areas. Both the public and the private print media only cover the urban areas.
There should be changes in the constitution of MACRA so that the board is not elected by the Minister responsible for communications but rather it is elected by a parliamentary committee. This therefore would mean that they will not necessarily feel that they are duty bound to propagate or sympathise with a position which favours the appointing authority. Our focus on MACRA is premised on that fact that they have powers to discipline the media which Includes powers to remove the errant media's license. At the same time we are cognizant of the responsibility which the Parliamentary and Presidential Election Act vests on the Commission. Infact the Supreme Court has found the Commission to be in dereliction of duty on this score. A budget line for litigation by the Commission would be ideal in this situation which would enable them to sue errant media.
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