Behold the ATI award winner!

Hon Folks, so MBC has felt duty bound to honour APM for the Access to Information (ATI) law! Frankly, I’m chaffed.

As a media practitioner and strong believer in the adage that information is power, I should’ve been giving MBC moral support for the decision to hail APM for the ATI.

But that’d make me as hypocritical as MBC itself which has all along been indifferent to the long fight for ATI only to wake up now and take it as its duty to heap credit for the enactment of an enabling law for sections 36 and 37 of the Constitution to the person who never relented throwing spanners in the works until MPs sent him a clear signal that he was fighting a losing battle.

It’s not hard to see why. MBC brags about being there to inform, educate and entertain the public when, in reality, it’s mostly used as a propaganda tool for rallying the people behind the so-called government of the day.

MBC was mum on ATI all along simply because no government—from that of Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda and now, Peter Mutharika—believed in granting the people of Malawi, let alone the media, the right to public information. Exploiting the claim that free press and right to information have limits, they’ve all treated access to public information more like a privilege than a right.

Consequently, all along MBC treated the ATI as a non-issue and completely avoided to sensitise the public on how they could use ATI even to ensure accountability and curb corruption in the use of Constituency Development Fund and Local Development Fund. Now the decentralisation programme is somehow mired in cashgate.

Where what’s good for the larger public has little or no congruence with the self-serving interests of the people in government, MBC sides with the latter obviously because, though the broadcaster ultimately belongs to the public and runs on tax-payer’s money, it’s under siege by the people who have the power to hire or fire its managers. 

It’s contortion of the truth to portray APM as a champion of the ATI just because it has been enacted on his watch. Those who have closely followed the process culminating in the passing of the ATI will attest to the fact that APM was opposed to the ATI in its current form and went to the extent of replacing the original draft with a grossly adulterated version which was tabled in Parliament.

When media managers led by Misa Malawi and Media Council of Malawi called on APM at the Kamuzu Palace while the ATI bill was still at the Cabinet level and pleaded for the tabling of the original version which was a result of a rigorous consultative process, APM emphatically stated that it’s his Cabinet’s (adulterated) version or no ATI for as long as he remains the State President.

Simply put, APM, like his predecessors, believes access to public information is a privilege and the ATI he wanted to see enacted into law reflected that conviction.  MBC would’ve been on the right side of history has it seen the enactment of ATI as an example of how democracy wins when the Executive and the Legislature independently execute their duties with integrity while, in the same breath, providing each other with checks and balances.

True, APM deserves a pat on the back for assenting to the unadulterated version of ATI against his own personal interests but it’s Parliament which should truly be the toast of town for rising above partisan interests to re-engineer the ATI Bill tabled in the august House so as to ensure it reflects the letter and spirit of Sections 36 and 37 of the Constitution.

Coming hardly six months before the 2019 polls, it’s likely that the MBC award was meant to serve a political purpose of endearing APM to the electorate, a propaganda role no media house should be playing in the 21st Century.

No wonder the much-touted ATI law remains inactivated more than a year after it was passed. It’s unlikely that the ATI would be put to use in the remaining few months of APM’s tenure just as it’s also unlikely that MBC would be given space to professionally disseminate unadulterated information which the public can use to make informed choices. n

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