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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04LILONGWE820
2004-08-23 08:11:00
UNCLASSIFIED
Embassy Lilongwe
Cable title:  

MEDIA REPORT: STATE-RUN MEDIA FREEDOM

Tags:   KPAO  KDEM  MI 
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 LILONGWE 000820 

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/PDPA, AF/S

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO KDEM MI
SUBJECT: MEDIA REPORT: STATE-RUN MEDIA FREEDOM
INCREASING, POLITICAL INTERFERENCE DECLINING

REF: A. LILONGWE 400


B. LILONGWE 403


UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 LILONGWE 000820

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/PDPA, AF/S

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO KDEM MI
SUBJECT: MEDIA REPORT: STATE-RUN MEDIA FREEDOM
INCREASING, POLITICAL INTERFERENCE DECLINING

REF: A. LILONGWE 400


B. LILONGWE 403



1. SUMMARY: A new era is dawning for the state
media in Malawi. The Malawi Broadcasting
Corporation (MBC) and Television Malawi (TVM)
have increased their coverage of different
political perspectives after newly-elected
government officials openly encouraged the two
media houses to present opposition views. END
SUMMARY.


2. Information minister Ken Lipenga, a seasoned
journalist and former editor-in-chief of two
independent daily newspapers, visited MBC and
TVM offices on July 21 and assured journalists
that no one would lose their job for
interviewing members of the opposition.


3. The two media houses immediately acted upon
Lipenga's instructions. Opposition leaders are
being allowed to comment critically on
government policies and other political
developments. MBC's daily Press Review program
has for the first time included both pro- and
anti- government stories. MBC has now started
broadcasting a live phone in program allowing
listeners to participate in political debates.


4. President Bingu Wa Mutharika and his
administration are decreasing their use of
state-run media for United Democratic Front
(UDF) purposes. His first political rally as
President, held a month after he took office,
was by his own directive not broadcast live on
MBC. Explaining why the President rejected live
coverage, Lipenga said the President felt the
rally did not warrant such coverage because it
was merely a political party function.
Mutharika's directive received praise from
surprised political analysts who described it as
a marked departure from the 'destructive
politics' of his predecessor, Bakili Muluzi, who
was notorious for his monopolization of state
media resources.

BACKGROUND
--------------

5. Since the UDF came to power in 1994, the two
public broadcasting services have come under
fire for favoring the ruling party. MBC's bias
was most evident in the run-up to the May 20
general elections when it completely closed the
airwaves to the opposition (reftels);
international election observers unanimously
cited this bias as a limiting factor in the
overall fairness of the elections. Calls by
civil society groups and other stakeholders for
the two public broadcasters to level the playing
field were unsuccessful and yielded little
politically-balanced coverage.


6. The Malawi Communications Regulatory
Authority (MACRA) did very little to encourage
balanced news at MBC and TVM. The two state-run
institutions are not MACRA license holders and
thus the regulatory body has very little
authority over their broadcasting and
operations. MBC began broadcasting in 1964 as
the only radio station in the country, and
Television Malawi was established in 1996.
MACRA was formed in 1998, and until MACRA's
existence the two media houses were answerable
only to the Ministry of Information. Any media
organization established after 1999 is required
to obtain a MACRA license; however, TVM and MBC
have not been required to do so, thus MACRA's
authority has been limited. MACRA has on
several occasions threatened to withdraw
broadcasting licenses from the Malawi Institute
of Journalism Radio, Capital Radio and Radio
Maria (Owned by Catholic Missionaries) on
allegations that the three private radio
stations air unbalanced news.


7. In principle, the ruling party has claimed
to be a champion of press freedoms throughout
its ten years in power. During the same period
the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
awarded Malawi the dubious honor of being ranked
second only to Zimbabwe in the Southern African
sub-region for the most number of reported media
abuse incidents. Media oppression in this period
included the closing down of private radio
stations, arrests of private-media employees,
political abuse of state media, and violence
against journalists by the UDF's notorious youth
wing, the "Young Democrats". Journalists at MBC
were fired for allegedly holding pro-opposition
political views; many of these journalists have
filed court cases against the GOM.

COMMENT
--------------

8. Over the past two months, TVM and MBC have
begun to show increasing signs of the ability to
work free from political party influence and
interference. Opposition views are being aired
even when directly critical of the President.
The ruling party now must pay for dedicated
coverage of party events, and the offer is open
for other parties to do the same. This progress
is a good sign, but the ruling party's tolerance
for the presentation of dissenting views is
uncharted territory and equal access is by no
means guaranteed.

Raspolic