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Stations Struggle To Prep for Elections

In the wake of the country’s general elections, Malawi’s regulatory authority stiffens rules to hinder the transmission of controversial language during broadcasts.

Rhodes Nsonkho is the host of Capital Radio’s phone-in show, News Talk. Credit: Lameck Masina BLANTYRE, Malawi — The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) has asked broadcasters in the country who will be airing live phone-in programs during the May 20 elections to take delivery of profanity delay systems.

This move, the regulatory body hopes, will hinder the transmission of any controversial, tension-filled discussions during pre-election live radio programming.

During the run up to the previous elections, MACRA proved lenient by not punishing several ill-equipped stations that weren’t able to comply with the Malawi Communication Act and license condition, which bars broadcasters from airing “defamatory, derogatory, and inflammatory and other abusive language or any other expressions that are likely to incite violence …”

But according to a statement issued in January, MACRA’s Director General Charles Msaliwa said the regulatory body would not let the mistakes slip through this time due to the absence of appropriate technology. “Failure to abide by this will be regarded as a clear violation of the [Communications] Act and the license condition, therefore the Authority will take drastic measures to penalize such broadcasters,” the document stated.

Thus far, private broadcaster Capital Radio is the only station in the country to utilize a profanity delay in its on air studio. MACRA representatives say that Galaxy FM, Matindi FM and Star FM have recently purchased a system but have yet to put it to use.

Capital Radio Operations Manager Arlene Grimes said they began using a profanity delay when they discovered the “emotion” sometimes inherent in live phone-in programs.

Kondwani Kalambule, head of Capital Radio’s engineering department, demonstrates the Eventide broadcast delay in the on-air studio. Credit: Lameck Masina “We installed the machine based on the fact the we felt we should have a mechanism in place to ensure our ability to monitor and control callers in the case of profanity or statements that may incite violence or hatred,” said Grimes.

Capital Radio’s Head of Engineering Kondwani Kalambule said the station purchased an Eventide BD960 autofill broadcast delay from Globecom in South Africa a few years ago and it’s been working fine ever since.

“It just takes few hours for the first user to master the machine. Working with the machines mounted on the rack gives the presenter the confidence of knowing that he or she is in control of the content and can manage it accordingly in case callers resort to inappropriate language,” said Sam Kabambe, head of the presentation department

Many stations protest that MACRA’s directive comes too late, claiming the regulatory authority should have told them this at least a year before the elections. “It is just few months to the elections. Telling us to buy the gadget this time around is a mockery. We don’t have a budget for that this year and we will continue our own way of controlling foul-mouthed callers,” said a radio station manager, who opted for anonymity for fear of reprisal.

What he means is that in the majority of cases, during the phone in programs radio presenters in Malawi simply ask callers to avoid bad language or they cut them off without apologies.

Acting Station Manager for Radio Islam Yusuf Chinyada said his station doesn’t normally have to deal with any issues regarding abusive language during live broadcasts. “We are a religious radio station and most of our callers are religious people who don’t use aggressive language,” he said. “They know that doing that is a sin. So we don’t think the absence of the machine would be a major problem for us. But we may consider buying it once our budget allows us to do so.”

Lameck Masina reports on the industry from Blantyre, Malawi.