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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04LILONGWE207
2004-03-15 12:13:00
UNCLASSIFIED
Embassy Lilongwe
Cable title:  

MALAWI MEDIA PRIMER

Tags:   KPAO  PGOV  KDEM  MI 
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						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 LILONGWE 000207 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PGOV KDEM MI
SUBJECT: MALAWI MEDIA PRIMER

REF: 03 LILONGWE 1058



1. SUMMARY: The government-controlled Malawi
Broadcasting Corporation radio is the main
source of news for the average Malawian. Two
independent daily newspapers are read by a small
segment of the urban population. Private
(commercial, religious, community) radio
stations reach urban centers in the South and
Central regions. The urban elite has access to
the country's only television station, which is
also state-owned. For a country that has only
been free for ten years, following a 30-year
dictatorial regime, the private media get good
marks for progress. Private radio stations are
increasing, self-censorship by the media is
lessening, and open debate about the importance
of media freedom is commonplace. END SUMMARY.



--------------------------


RADIO: THE DOMINANT MEDIA


--------------------------





2. Government-owned and -operated Malawi
Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) is the only radio
station that broadcasts throughout the country.
Broadcasting in English and the major ethnic
languages, MBC reaches the widest audience of
any medium in Malawi. The station broadcasts
all presidential events and activities live. MBC
gives priority and prominence to news coverage
of government and ruling UDF party events and
very little to opposition parties and leaders.



3. Independent radio in Malawi is limited in
geographical reach. There is, however, a
growing number of private radio stations whose
listenership and influence continue to expand.
Capital Radio, on the air since 1999, reaches
Blantyre and Lilongwe. The FM commercial radio
station is renowned for controversial talk shows
that are unbiased. Capital FM is an affiliate
of the Voice of America, an arrangement that
provides Malawians with a clear FM transmission
of VOA news and programs.



4. The Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ) is
part of the University of Malawi journalism
department and operates its own private radio
station. It broadcasts in the Southern Region.
The station has earned a reputation of airing
opposition politics and presenting a wide
spectrum of political coverage. MIJ has
experienced some pressure from the government to
limit its role as a teaching institution only
(and to refrain from airing political news), but
MIJ is dedicated to furthering the role of
independent media in Malawi.



5. Power FM 101 is a hit music radio station
targeting young audiences in Blantyre and
Lilongwe. The station, however, carries news
bulletins hourly. FM 101 is co-owned by the son
of a former cabinet minister who resigned last

year from the ruling UDF party after the
President chose his successor without input from
the party. Since the rift between the owner's
father and the UDF party and government, FM 101
is airing more political news than it had in the
past.



6. Community radio stations are increasingly
important in the Malawi news arena. A new
community station has been established in
Nkhotakota in the Central Region in addition to
Dzimwe community radio in Mangochi (just at the
southern tip of Lake Malawi) that was opened
five years ago. Community radio is supposed to
air news important to the communities it serves,
but these stations are airing ever more
political issues.



7. Religious stations - two Catholic, two
Christian and one Islamic - carry general news
and development issues, but focus primarily on
religious material. Like community stations,
religious stations are beginning to air more
political news.



--------------------------


NEWSPAPERS: THE URBAN ELITE


--------------------------





8. The "Daily Times" and the "Nation" are the
two independent daily papers, each with a
circulation of about 15,000 copies during the
week, 25,000 copies on Saturdays. The print
media, as well as electronic media, suffers from
lack of resources and trained journalists.



9. The "Daily Times" is owned by Blantyre Print
and Publishing Company whose chairman is the
ruling party's vice-presidential candidate in
the 2004 polls. Formerly owned by Life
President Hastings Banda, and still in trust to
his family, the "Daily Times" was considered a
government paper during Banda's regime. After
the first multi-party elections in 1994, the
"Daily Times" became increasingly independent,
but still lacked the respect accorded the
"Nation." As 2004 elections approach, the
"Daily Times" is becoming more pro-government,
including a new editorial policy that restricts
editors to pro-government articles.



10. The "Nation" has had a reputation of
independence since its inception in 1993. When
the owner of the "Nation", a former cabinet
minister, fell out with the ruling UDF party in
mid-2003, the tone of the paper began to change.
More articles criticizing the government appear
and fewer appear in support of the President.
As a result, the government has greatly cut back
its advertising in the paper.



11. An assortment of weekly papers exist, but
only one is considered a "must-read" by the
urban community. The "Chronicle" is stridently
opposition, but respected by journalists and the
public for its outspoken views. Recently the
National Association of Media in Southern Africa
in Malawi awarded the "Chronicle" its "Best
Investigative Reporting Award," and in the past
year the "Chronicle" has scooped the daily
papers on several important issues, including
Muluzi's proposed successor. The "Chronicle"
says that it is under much pressure and
intimidation from the government, but it
continues to speak out.



12. Other weekly papers are decidedly government
mouthpieces, such as the "UDF News" and the
Information Department's "Weekly News." Some
papers appear sporadically, most with a specific
agenda of supporting or opposing the government.
They are not taken as serious journalism, and
circulation is low (several thousand at most.)



--------------------------


TELEVISION MALAWI


--------------------------





13. Television Malawi is another medium for the
urban elite. Like MBC, Television Malawi,
established only in 1999, is controlled by the
state. No opposition politicians appear on TVM:
only government rallies and pro-government news
are aired. Local programming is, however,
limited and the station depends heavily on
relayed programming from foreign television
stations. Programs are from the BBC, Canal
France International, DWS, and several religious
television services. One station that formerly
relayed programming was TV Africa, which ceased
to function in September 2003. In October 2003,
the Public Affairs Section donated satellite
equipment to Television Malawi allowing it to
broadcast VOA, World Net and C-Span everyday.



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------




14. As in all African countries, radio is the
most important media outlet. With the recent
establishment of private radio, government
control of broadcast media is loosening.
Although MBC is still the only medium available
to the majority of Malawians, private stations
are increasing in geographical coverage, and
calls for MBC to open its airwaves to opposition
politicians are being heard. The three leading
newspapers provide credible news coverage,
especially by African standards, and contribute
to interesting exchanges of ideas. Their reach
is limited, but after 30 years of dictatorship
and complete media control, print and private
electronic media have made important strides
toward independence.

Browning