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Radio presenters acquitted in election coverage lawsuit

(MISA/IFEX) - On 8 September 2009, the Blantyre Magistrate's Court ruled that two Joy Radio station presenters, O'Brien Nazombe and Mary Chande Mhone, did not have to answer to charges of broadcasting a campaign programme after the expiry of the official campaign period for the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections.

The charges against Nazombe and Chande Mhone were based on section 115 of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act. The section makes it an offence for any person to campaign or cause another to campaign within 48 hours of polling. The programme was allegedly broadcast on 18 May, a few hours before polling day on 19 May. Hence, the police sealed off the station's premises, forcing the radio off the air for over three weeks. The police also demanded a computer that contained the alleged campaign programme as evidence to be tendered in court.

Meanwhile, Magistrate Mzondi Mvula ruled that the state had failed to prove that the alleged programme was aired on Joy Radio, hence the acquittal of the two accused persons. They were facing a fine of MK5,000 (approx. US$36) or a two-year prison sentence.


BACKGROUND:

Joy Radio is owned by former president Bakili Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF), a party that was ditched by the incumbent president Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika to form the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Joy Radio had its license revoked by the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) for reportedly breaching broadcasting regulations after it allegedly aired a campaign programme when the campaign period had already lapsed. The radio station went back on the air through the intervention of the courts. Prior to the 2009 elections, the radio station alleged that the government was planning to close it during the polls to deny it an opportunity to air the election results.

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