Court stops ban on phone-in programmes

By Moses Chitsulo 

The High Court in Lilongwe has granted MISA Malawi an order stopping the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) from implementing the ban on phone-in programmes until a judicial review of the decision is undertaken.         

In a ruling delivered on Wednesday, September 25, 2019 Judge Ruth Chinangwa noted that MACRA has the mandate to ban broadcasts, but the validity of the current ban was questionable.

“It is noted that not all radio stations have aired programmes that would incite violence and yet the ban covers all stations.”

“If the injunction is not granted the ban clearly affects press freedom of all the stations which did not participate in the condemned action and listener’s rights…this court has not made a finding of whether the broadcasts violated the license or not but rather questioned the validity of the action taken by the respondent in addressing the alleged misconduct of the licensees,” reads part of the ruling.

Commenting on the ruling, MISA Malawi Chairperson Teresa Ndanga said broadcasters were now free to resume their phone-in programmes.

“This is victory for media freedom and freedom of expression and broadcasters can now resume their phone-in programmes. But it is important to celebrate the victory with responsibility. Let us maintain the highest professional standards possible in whatever we do as journalists,” Ndanga said.

MACRA suspended all phone-in programmes on June 7, 2019 citing unprofessionalism on the part of broadcasters.

MISA engaged MACRA to reverse the ban to no avail. MISA Malawi and its membership believe the ban was unreasonable and an infringement on media freedom and freedom of expression.

MACRA had issues with two out of over 80 broadcasters registered in Malawi.

MISA Malawi partnered Times Group, Zodiak Broadcasting Station and Capital Radio seeking the Court’s declaration that the decision of MACRA violates constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press, among other rights, and that the procedure followed in making the decision was improper as no consultations were made with affected parties as required by law.

The court has set October 15, 2019 for judicial review on the matter.

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