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Date: Sat, 26 Aug 1995 11:31:51 EDT
Sender: Internationally-Oriented Computer-Assisted Reporting List <INTCAR-L@AMERICAN.EDU>
Subject: Malawi news censorship fight

Action Alert
International Freedom of Expression eXchange Clearing House
Date: 22 August 1995

Increasing interference reported at Malawi Broadcasting Corporation

By Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Windhoek. 22 August, 1995

The former head of the current affairs desk at the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Albert Ndarama, has been dismissed from the corporation in what he considers to be a politically motivated move. Ndarama told MISA he received notice from the MBC on 16 May terminating his contract with the corporation with immediate effect.

The notice came only a day after the MBC lunch-time radio current affairs program "News & Newsreel" carried an excerpt from an opposition leader's speech accusing the government of corruption. In the news report, the leader of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Gwanda Chakuamba, accused the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) of misappropriating K50 000 (US$ 3 100) earmarked for the Poverty Alleviation Fund. Chakuamba alleged that the ruling party instead diverted the money to UDF members, to use in their local constituencies for political purposes.

Ndarama said he had no doubts his dismissal was the direct result of the broadcast of Chakuamba's speech. According to Ndarama, on the same day the speech was broadcast, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Brown Mpinganjira demanded that the tapes of the speech be handed over to him. Mpinganjira also gave strict instructions that under no circumstances was the item to appear on the evening news broadcast, Ndarama said.

"Employment contracts with the MBC are normally for three years, and mine had only run for nine months. So, I was naturally disappointed to be served with a letter saying my services were being terminated that same day," Ndarama said, adding that he made no attempt to contest his dismissal because "I would be beating my head against a brick wall."

Manager of Administration at the MBC Mkeka Msowoya denied that Ndarama's dismissal was in any way politically motivated. Msowoya said Ndarama was past retirement age, and the MBC had already officially retired him. According to Msowoya, Ndarama was only kept on after retirement because of delays in obtaining his pension benefits from the insurance company in South Africa.

The dismissal of Ndarama comes amidst increasing reports of direct government interference in the MBC's editorial affairs, as well as increased levels of self-censorship by corporation staff. In April, a memo -- thought by some to have been issued by MBC Chief Editor Don Chimera -- was posted on the newsroom notice board, instructing staff to "play down stories that attack the government's `failure' to maintain security in the country." The memo was signed "CEditor," but Chimera denies any responsibility for the memo, claiming he was on leave in a remote part of the country at the time the memo was issued. Chimera said he did not know who issued the memo.

However, Chimera told MISA that sometimes political figures did interfere directly in editorial matters. When asked whether the MBC was bound to comply with government instructions, he replied "Yes in a way; we are not as independent as you think. We are still funded by the government, so there is a limit to how far we can go in being independent."


Send appeals to the Board of the MBC:
-expressing concern at reports of political interference in the editorial policy of the corporation
-urging the board to take open and concrete measures to ensure the editorial independence of the corporation


Dr John Chipangwi
Malawi Broadcasting Corporation Board
P.O. Box 30133
Blantyre 3, Malawi
Tel: + 265 671257
Fax: + 265 671353

For further information, contact David Lush at MISA, Private Bag 13386, Windhoek, Namibia, tel:+264 61 232975, fax:+264 61 248016, e-mail:

The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility of its originator.

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