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Police stop march in support of Joy Radio, station authorities appeal to Supreme Court over revoked license

(MISA/IFEX) - On 26 November 2008, police stopped a march by concerned listeners of Joy Radio who wanted to deliver a petition to the district commissioner calling for the radio station to be allowed to go back on air.

According to the chairperson of the organising committee for the march, Harris Chisale, they planned for the march to express their concern over the radio's closure which he said has deprived them of their primary source of information and business communication channel.

"Joy Radio offers competitive rates that we small-scale business persons can afford. With the closure we have nowhere to go as other radio stations are expensive. We could even bargain with Joy for lower rates," he said.

Chisale said the march was stopped by riot police just a few minutes after it started. The police took him to the police station where he was told that the march had been stopped because proper procedures had not been followed. However, he contended that they had followed the proper procedures by informing the police about their plan to carry out a march.

Chisale said it was too harsh for the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) to revoke the licence instead of sitting down with the station's management to resolve their misunderstandings.

Police spokesman, Davies Chingwalu, confirmed the action saying the march had been stopped as the marchers were preparing to start because the organisers did not follow the necessary procedures.

Chingwalu said the organisers wrote an anonymous letter to the police commissioner instead of the city assembly chief executive or the district commissioner. He also said the letter was lacking an address and details about where and when the march would start.

"They brought the letter (on 25 November) which was about 24 hours from the start of the march instead of the required 48 hours. The procedure is that the city assembly has to grant them permission and they are just supposed to inform the about their intentions," Chingwalu said.

Both Chingwalu and Chisale said no one was arrested or injured.

Chisale said they were in contact with the police to get clearance to hold the march and that listeners of the closed radio station in their districts were also intending to follow suit.

In a related development, Joy Radio is appealing to the Supreme Court to reverse the High Court ruling that resulted in the station going off air on 20 November.

The High Court ruling lifted an injunction Joy Radio had obtained that prevented the MACRA from revoking their broadcasting licence.

MACRA maintains that the station - which is privately owned by former president and current United Democratic Front presidential candidate Bakili Muluzi - has contravened the Communications Act, which bars politicians from owning radio stations.

"The Nation" newspaper reported Joy Radio's lawyer, Ralph Kasambara, as saying that he found the observations of High Court Judge Joseph Manyungwa to be unsatisfactory as the judge said that the station failed to present all the relevant case materials in it's application for an injunction.

Kasambara said that all the facts were disclosed to Judge Healey Potani, who granted the injunction.

The Supreme Court has yet to set an appeal date.

Updates the Joy Radio case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/98693

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