Minister of Information and Digitisation Gospel Kazako has called on Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) to address challenges facing the communications sector.
Speaking yesterday in Blantyre during an open-day when Macra engaged operators and the public on its regulatory services, the minister said he will ensure that the authority is run according to the strict code of the rule of law.
Kazako said: “If you are opening a radio station, for example, you need to understand your obligations, you have to know you need to pay licence fees, tax, levies and other requirements, otherwise you might get shocked while you are already in there.”
However, various media houses and operators in the communications sector cried foul over the high licence fees and spectrum charges the regulator demands.
Operators said the television or radio operating licence fees, which are charged in US dollars, are too high and do not consider the economic situation of the country.
Neno Community Radio managing director Benson Tembo Junior said the high licence fees and levies are choking the broadcasting industry in the country.
He said: “Macra should understand the financial challenges everybody is facing due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. It needs to be flexible on payment plans for licence fees and other tariffs.”
Cavalry Family Broadcasting Network (CFBN) board member Mbili Mlamba agreed with Tembo, saying Macra must intervene on the charges broadcasters pay for tower services.
Macra charges an application fee of $2 500 (about K2.5 million) for national television licence and $2 000 (about K2 million) for national radio licence, the licences expire in seven years. However, broadcasters are required to pay an initial and annual licence fees of $5 000 (about K5 million), respectively.
Apart from that, broadcasters are expected to pay spectrum fees and other levies and tariffs, including tower charges and tax.
However, Macra director general Daud Suleman justified the high license fees and charges, saying they are in conformity with the international fees.
Commenting on the recent campaign to revoke television and radio licences for non-payment of tariffs, he said the fact that the regulator took off the air one station, Rainbow Television, does not mean they are killing the broadcasts industry.
Suleman said the country has about 56 licensed radio stations and most of them are honouring their obligations while about 10 or 15 owe the regulator licence fees.
“As the regulator we were not enforcing license fees, but we want to correct that. The affected broadcasters, operators and service providers must have also slept on their job by not honouring their obligations to Macra.
“They shouldn’t have allowed the money to accumulate,” he said.
In December last year, Macra started engaging operators after noting that most of them were not paying their licence fees owing the authority up to K9.4 billion dating back to 2012.
Suleman said about 250 operators which include telecoms, broadcasting and postal owed Macra.