Opinion

Malawi Broadcasting Corporation needs Privatization, Not Reforms


By Lomuthando Nthakomwa

Listen to this article here

The Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), the country’s official public
broadcaster since 1964 is often accused of promoting state propaganda in favor
of the country’s ruling party at all times of its existence. As Malawi recently
ushered in a new ruling party, which saw the appointment of a new cabinet,
including a Minister of Information, hopes are renewed regarding the future of
MBC; to what extent will the change in administration transform the MBC to
become a non-biased public broadcaster?
The new Minister of Information, Gospel Kazako, has spoken out regarding
MBC, promising Malawians that it will undergo a restructuring process to make
it a body truly serving the interests of all Malawians. While Malawians have yet
to be told what changes will be made, or what the transformation will actually
look like, the truth is that keeping MBC alive is needless and essentially
amounts to the poor use of taxpayers’ money.

While the idea of reforming MBC is commendable, we know that historically
there has been little continuity of policy between a presidential predecessor and
an incumbent in Malawi. A case in point is the much-heralded public sector
reforms championed by vice president, Saulos Chilima. As soon as he left DPP
in 2018, the reforms came to a standstill. And it wasn’t until he was elected
again under the Tonse Alliance led by MCP that the reforms he had begun
several years previously were resuscitated. Therefore, while the reforms could
culminate in a non-partisan MBC; this could only last for as long as the
Chakwera presidential term(s). There is no guarantee that a new incoming
administration would promote the neutrality of the public broadcaster.
It is no secret that government spending in Malawi is ridiculous, with the
country having a deficit in the budget yearly, which is subsidized by foreign aid
and loans. MBC is one of several dead weights that the government pumps
billions of Kwachas into, further entrenching the country’s precarious financial
position.

In 2018, the public broadcaster declared that MK108 million in non-
remitted taxes and other debt were choking its operations. It begged legislatorsfor an additional MK1 billion to cover the 2019 Tripartite Election, which at
least two other private broadcasters were also covering.
It should be emphasized that all of this is funded by taxpayers’ money, who,
unfortunately, the institution has not served particularly well in the past; If
previous behaviour is to be considered, MBC has only served the ruling party’s
and government’s interests.
Thus, MBC cannot continue to operate on bailouts from the government as
doing so is wasteful and only serves to divert funds from potential development
projects that would have a far greater impact on Malawi and Malawians.
But privatization may hold the key. The government rarely admits when an
institution has become obsolete, which the MBC has clearly become. So why
not sell it to those who can run it better?
The emergence of private broadcasters with larger audiences in terms of viewership than MBC has accelerated the decline of the need for a public broadcaster. The cost of keeping MBC alive is unjustifiable when all the public broadcaster has done is to promote political bias. And when there are other much promising state projects that are hungry for the same meagre resources.

If we are to move forward as a country, Malawi needs unbiased information from private broadcasters, not state propaganda from sycophantic institutions. The Government of Malawi would be serving the best interests of its citizens if the media was left in the hands of the private sector, or failing that, by establishing a Public private partnership that is run independently.

However, such a ‘privatization’ would need to be implemented well to be effective. There would be a need for an expert consultation process, the elimination of all of MBC’s debts to make it attractive on the market, and the proper institution of checks and balances to ensure journalistic independence, high standards of journalistic excellence, and the avoidance of corruption (or any appearance of it).


Lomuthando Nthakomwa is a writing fellow at African Liberty and a political
scientist working in the international development sphere. She is also a Young
African Leaders Initiative public administration fellow. She tweets via
@Thando_MNT.

Lomuthando is a Political Leadership graduate, currently working in the international development sector in renewable energy. She is also a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Public Administration alumni, as well as an African Liberty Writing Fellow. She writes poetry, and won the 2018 Standard Bank Poetry Prize. She also enjoys writing on Reformed Baptist Theology.

2 comments on “Malawi Broadcasting Corporation needs Privatization, Not Reforms

  1. Philimon Kamanga

    I totally agree Thando. MBC needs to be privatized, it has failed Malawians for so long now.

    Like

  2. Oh god, where to start with this! Why would anyone be advocating privatising public broadcasting, I mean what’s the worst that could happen eh?.
    Aside let’s start with literature, 2009, Harvey b Feigenbaum paper on the paradox of television privatization. Here data clearly shows that privatisation route is a bad idea. Nations without public broadcaster are essentially giving us informing voice to it’s citizens in favour of private business interests. TV is a public service rather than a vehicle for generating revenue. Having private owned broadcasters only means our politics be in the hands of these station owners. Essentially we will creating an environment to birth powerful political players like Ruppert Murdoch, Berlusconi etc. These powerful media mogul not only control the broadcasting but set agenda and tone of politics and democracy worldwide.
    Freedom house, 2018, article articulated on these when they observed that democracy is under threat worldwide due to waning information integrity, and there is a need for civil society to play a part in countering media manipulation. The challenge of the next decade will be to address media manipulation and disinformation without sacrificing freedom of expression, and am afraid privatising instead of reforming MBC is just playing to hands of the biggest manipulators, private interests. We are already creating a monster in Gospel Kazako if we are not careful, the least we need is a fox news, or uk sun newspaper version here in Malawi. Where media moguls be one too powerful so much so that they pick election winners by mere endorsement.

    Like

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