Malawi press needs to go back to journalism school

I am angry. I am angry, at our unspeakable lack of analytical skills. I am angry, at our haste in drawing conclusions from no premise or inference. In short, I am angry at our appalling low media literacy levels.

Am referring to the two topical issues that, ad nauseam, have graced the front pages of our leading newspapers over the couple of weeks; the worth of late President Bingu Wa Mutharika’s deceased estates and the “Malawi would be better off as a one party state” remarks purported to have been uttered by former Secretary General of the People’s Party, Henry Chibwana.

Before I start zeroing in on our lack of insight on these topical issues let me remind readers what they already know but forget to remember about newspapers: Their main aim is to make profits, not inform “us” as you have been made to believe.

So to make profits, some newspapers will amplify stories, others will sensationalise them, distortions will be made to some truth by some newspapers and sometimes, yes, sometimes, a whole lie will find its way in the papers all in desperate attempts to sell news. Retractions may come but you will not be compensated neither will your money be returned for buying liesnewspaper

This is the chief reason why newspaper readers should at least make efforts to read newspapers with open minds and be able to make sound judgements on what they have read instead of treating information from newspapers as if it were handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Am saying all this because I have been left perplexed as to how for example, would a nation near the point of being declared a state of emergency over reports, I repeat, reports, indicating that a former president had 61 Billion Kwacha worth of property  under his wraps at the time he was being dispatched to his maker?

How on earth would people just rush in making conclusions that the staggering amount was downloaded from government coffers in the absence of information revealing the number and type of businesses the former statesman was involved in?

Why did we as a nation, not demand the newspapers to extend their research and give the nation the businesses the old man was running, the profits the businesses were raking, the donations (if ever they were any) he received and amalgamate the figures to give the nation a picture on how much money the late president was expected to have after eight years?

Just what would the nation do with a figure of 61 Billion Kwacha made in eight years from 150 Million Kwacha eight years earlier? Is this not being given a single side of an equation but being asked to solve it simultaneously?

Is 61 Billion Kwacha not legally possible to make in eight years regardless of the number of sources of income one could have?

Who is the richest person inthe country? Does the nation know? What are this person’s sources of income? How much has it taken this particular person to accumulate such wealth? With how much investment did they start with?

I am wondering just how, in the absence of all this, some people who are more Malawian that others are forming at the mouth calling the fallen man this or that?

But has anyone wondered or indeed dared to find out how much wealth former president Bakili Muluzi has? What if Muluzi has twice this amount of money we are talking about?

The problem, and it is huge this problem, is that as Malawians, we are still living in that era where we believe the Media is all powerful and that whatever it publishes is the gospel truth. We are lacking the guts, the intelligence and the wits to question the information being churned out by the newspapers.

What we have forgotten, ladies and Gentlemen, is that news is a commodity and that those who sell it will do anything to get it sold. The onus is on us to choose what to believe and what not to take seriously.

Take the story of Chibwana’s remarks for example, just another typical case of media sensationalism.

But first, allow me to categorically put it here that I would never at any point flirt let alone entertain an idea of going back to one Party rule. The inhumane memories and stories of Dr Banda’s dictatorial adventures are just too indelible.

But to take advantage of an excited secretary general’s remark and to subsequently use that remark to sell a newspaper, like has been the Henry Chibwana’s case, is quite unfortunate.

Here was an excited Secretary General, desperately trying to drum support for his party a few months to a general election.

In his euphoria, in the midst of welcoming reputable politicians from a rival party he said soon, the country will turn into a one party state because his party is receiving support from all corners of the nation. The next thing you read in tomorrow’s papers, in a bid to make the most out of the remarks, the front page of a leading newspaper has a screamer: PP SG Ponders one party rule. Does it make sense? Does this reflect what the speaker said?

Surprisingly, the whole nation, like sheep being taken to a slaughter house, rises to the bait and everyone has their knives out for Chibwana.

In all this, no one is questioning just how the PP would turn the nation into a one party state in this democratic nation. Did Chibwana say his party will forcefully deregister opposition parties? No. Did he hint on cancelling the 2014 general election to let the PP retain power unopposed? No. Did the former Polytechnic student say no new political parties will be allowed in the country? Nope. So,what is thehuffing and puffing about? Is this not cowardice?

So unfortunate that in the thick of things, Chibwana fails to stand the heat and opts out of the kitchen.

So sad he is a victim of vulture journalism.

If Chibwana was as thick-skinned as the Chenji Golo’s of this nation, believe you me, no talk of resignation would have surfaced. This would have been just one of those uncanny political innuendoes from typical politicians.

But Chibwana was perhaps in the wrong terrain; perhaps he is better off managing irate college students.

Whatever the case, the case of Chibwana and late Bingu wa Mutharika’s wealth have exposed just how pathetic we as a nation are when it comes to analysing issues. They have shown, these cases that as a nation we are doing much of our reasoning with our emotions, not brains.

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