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Court orders regulatory authority to compensate Joy Radio

(MISA/IFEX) - The Supreme Court of Appeal has ordered the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) to pay Joy Radio station about MK13.8 million (approx. US$98,000) in compensation for loss of business during the period that MACRA closed the station. This is about half the amount of MK 23 million (approx. US$164,000) that the High Court in Mzuzu had ordered MACRA to pay Joy Radio.

The broadcaster sued MACRA for loss of business during the period that the regulatory authority unlawfully revoked the station's broadcasting license for an alleged breach of contract. Among other things, MACRA accused the broadcaster of "suppressing information" when the radio failed to surrender material that was deemed to have infringed broadcasting regulations.

Joy Radio, however, sought the intervention of the High Court which, on 16 January 2009, declared that the decision by MACRA to revoke the station's license was unconstitutional and unreasonable, effectively dismissing all cases the regulatory authority had against the privately-owned radio station. The ruling was delivered by Justice Isaac Mtambo.

MACRA appealed the case to the Supreme Court where it also asked to be granted permission not to pay Joy Radio pending hearing of the appeal. Joy Radio was represented in the case by Ralph Kasambara. The Supreme Court made its ruling in the matter on 18 September, just one week after the Blantyre Magistrate's Court dismissed another case in which the radio station's two presenters were accused of airing campaign material after expiry of the official campaign period during the 2009 general elections.


BACKGROUND:

Joy Radio had been campaigning for the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) party prior to the 2009 general elections. The leader of the UDF, former president Dr. Bakili Muluzi, fell out of favour with the incumbent Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika just after the 2004 general elections. Mutharika won the elections after he was hand-picked by Muluzi to lead the UDF, a party he later ditched in order to form his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is now in power.

Since 2004, MACRA and Joy Radio have been involved in a number of legal tussles. The police in Blantyre closed down Joy Radio following allegations that the broadcaster aired campaign material outside the stipulated period. The radio was off the air when Malawians were voting during the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections and only reopened weeks after the polls.

Joy Radio has since withdrawn all programmes deemed confrontational by the government and has improved its news content by portraying "a positive image" of the Mutharika administration.

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