“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”- Thomas Jefferson
I am sure President Joyce Banda must have been having a terrible day or she simply might have waken up from the wrong side of her executive bed for her to make those amazing remarks against the media the other day. I was not surprised Moses Kunkuyu, him of the thankless task of cleaning up when the government – especially the President – messes up, lamely tried to spruce up government’s relationship with the media.
But Kunkuyu’s trite mea culpa was too little, too late. Joyce Banda had already made her point: she brooks no nonsense from dimwits who tantalise themselves as belonging to the so-called fourth estate of government.
Unlike President Jefferson of old, whose iconic statement a couple of centuries ago immortalised him as an advocate of an open government, Joyce Banda does not like the media one bit. She would rather go about her noble task of distributing cows unencumbered by twits with pens scribbling away, microphones obstructing her way or cameras blinding her view.
Joyce Banda wants the serenity of Sanjika Palace unbothered by a cacophony of ungrateful loudmouths who have not seen anything good in her collecting over US 1bn from the West for our near-dry national coffers in the short time she has been in State House.
She doesn’t have time for inimical journalists who cannot appreciate that Barack Obama, him who rules the free world, saw it fit to invite her for a chat at the White House while her predecessors could only sniff the coveted address in Washington from tourist brochures. (Never mind that one Hastings Kamuzu Banda toasted Lyndon Johnston back in 1967 at the same White House!)
But, seriously, does the President really hate the media with such a passion that she has no time read newspapers or watch herself on MBC TV? My! This is more than serious! Surely my good President doesn’t believe one moment that she has such a treasonously murderous media capable of sniffing the life out of a whole president!
The Muckraker has no issues with Abiti; he certainly doesn’t want to despatch her to her maker a second early than the Big Kahuna in the skies pre-destined.
But he has a message for the President: because she doesn’t read newspapers or watch TV maybe that’s why she sometimes makes these strange – I do not want to use the word ‘bad’ – decisions.
The media, especially the newspapers she passionately loathes these days, have always been with her when her estranged eccentric boss was dragging her in the mud.
Had it not been for the media Bingu and his<em>acolytes would have quietly banished her to the dustbin of history. It was the media – the independent ones she is so mad about now – that made her remain relevant in the face of the hostility she suffered.
Indeed if it weren’t for the unfettered media the mechanisations of the ‘Mid Night 12’ would have come to pass. We could’ve been sold the dummy that ‘Daniel Phiri’ was sent to South Africa while ‘Bingu wa Mutharika’ was enjoying a well-deserved holiday in Perth, Australia, during those three mad days of April.
But the media, the same Joyce Banda abhors now, called the ‘Mid Night 12’’s bluff and helped the constitutional order to take its course. Thus Joyce Banda rode on the crest of such unfettered fight. Now the chief beneficiary of such unfettered media cannot come back to stab the back of the benefactor. They say a good turn deserves another.
The President’s disdain of the media exposes her soft under belly. It tells of an insecure leader who hates to hear the hard truth; it tells us she is a leader who likes to be caressed with sugar-coated lies. Such leaders, Abiti must be warned, easily turn into dictators. And, in this day and age, dictators – unfortunately – do not survive.
Abiti’s outbursts excite some uncomfortable thoughts. If she is being this rough with the media now she is just an “accidental president” brought forth by an accident of fate, shall the same follow when Malawians give her the mandate to govern next year?
Of course all is not lost for Abiti. Her government’s quick realisation that she had mis-spoken can be the starting point. By quickly unleashing Moses Kunkuyu to clean up the mess is a good starting point.
This is why presidents – all presidents, be they in the White House, the Kremlin or Kamuzu Palace – need advisors. To think that Abiti has advisors is to insult my intelligence. No president goes to say things in public without being advised what to say, how to say it and when to say it.
You don’t, for example, let your president diminish herself in public by wasting time emptying her chest on private family matters of forty years ago. Her handlers could do better. Family feuds of decades ago shouldn’t inform her government’s policy now. Someone put it aptly: “Keep your family and business completely separated”.
I know President Banda is only human. She is bound to lose her cool once in a while. But as leader of the lot of us we expect a certain level of decorum and tolerance from her.
I therefore urge her to read newspapers, especially those that muckrake her day in, day out. I expect her to watch TV even when it lampoons her. We need an informed president, not a president who only hears what the likes of Uladi Mussa and Jones Chikalimba lie to her.
- . The original version of this article appears in the Sunday Times