State broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC)’s director general Benson Tembo was yesterday sent on forced leave but the decision was rescinded later, almost 24 hours after he did not comply with a directive to cover live President Joyce Banda’s delivery of her statement on the aftermath of the Tripartite elections.
MBC board chairperson Evans Namanja confirmed Tembo’s reinstatement but refused to divulge details.
Tembo confirmed in an interview Friday afternoon that he had received a letter from Namanja, sending him on an indefinite leave for “failure to take lawful instructions.
“I am directed by government that you should proceed on leave with immediate effect until further notice for failure to take lawful instructions from authorities,” reads the letter.
At the time of the interview, Tembo said he was not at the office because he had been told to keep away and security forces had been deployed at the broadcaster’s premises to prevent him from entering them.
“Yes, I am in receipt of that letter. It was given to me this morning. I do not know what I have done wrong. All along I thought I was simply doing my job, and following the media code of conduct for covering the electoral process,” said Tembo. “I am still addressing my mind on my next action.”
Several media outlets also reported that Tembo sought an a court injunction, restraining the board from suspending him.
Explaining the instructions that he may have defied, Tembo said MBC did not provide the live coverage because, besides complying with the expectations of the code of conduct, the broadcaster was technically handicapped to perform the task at the time.
“The expectation of the code of conduct is that the candidates and contesting parties should be dealt with in a manner which demonstrates that none of them is being favoured,” said Tembo.
In addition, he said, the equipment used for covering functions live had temporarily been moved away from Lilongwe to Mzuzu for coverage of elections.
“The other one is in Blantyre. In the circumstances, it meant that unless the President moved to our studio, it was not possible to have her function covered live at State House (where it was held),” he added.
Tembo said: “These are the details of my explanation which I gave when I was queried from OPC [Office of the President and Cabinet].” He declined to name the official who issued the query.
Namanja confirmed in a separate interview writing the letter, but failed to specify the “lawful instructions” that Tembo disregarded.
“Ask Dr. Tembo. He will tell you. He knows them,” he said.
When told that Tembo had already indicated that he did exactly know what they were, Namanja argued: “Look, Dr Tembo is a highly educated man. He is a personality of very high integrity. He is able to know what he did to warrant the decision that has been taken.”
Namanja refused to describe the procedure for sending a director general on forced leave and whether that procedure was followed.
“You are asking a very unnecessary question,” Namanja snapped.
According to former director general of MBC Bright Malopa, suspension of a chief executive officer of MBC can only be done by the board through a resolution.
“And to convene a board, you need time because the members are never in one place and they have to be seized not only with the agenda, but also with the synopsis of the issues for consideration.
“When you look at the time the alleged misconduct happened and the time when the decision was taken, the board did not meet and the decision has been taken at the instructions of someone who is not a member of that board [government],” argued Malopa.
The local chapter of Media rights defender, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Namisa) had condemned the suspension of Tembo, saying besides being unprocedural, it was a violation of his rights and a threat to media freedom.