A survey that asked practicing journalists to rate spokespersons of public and quasi-public institutions seems to indicate the Ministry of Health and Escom’s spokespersons are in bad books of many a scribe while those of Ministry of Finance and the Judiciary seem to have a perfect working relationship with journalists.
Journalists from radio, TV and print platforms and from all Malawi’s cities were contacted via WhatsApp and asked to list three spokespersons they considered the best and three they regarded as the worst.
Out of 21, 10 of the respondents listed Nations Msowoya, spokesperson of the Treasury as their best pick. Sangwani Mwafulirwa of MEC came in second with 5 mentions. Mlenga Mvula, of the Judiciary had 3 mentions and Kingsley Dandaula of Lilongwe Police had 2.
The ones that are rated best “respond promptly to questions, be it on phone for simple ones, or reasonable time to questionnaires…,” said one respondents.
Msowoya when told he had a vote of confidence from scribes described it as part of public service.
”Our job as civil servants is to provide service in our area of expertise. I think that has been the guiding principle [behind my good performance].”
Mlenga Mvula said he was humbled because there are many a people in the public relations profession who are equally competent, qualified and readily available for responses from journalists across the country.
“I am not the best spokesperson, but I strive to be one because I believe in telling people nothing, but the truth as I was trained.” said Mvula.
He listed his enabling work environment his bosses and good relationship he built with journalists as keys to his performance.
On the other side of the survey, things got equally extreme with 11 respondents all saying Adrian Chikumbe, spokesperson of the Ministry of Health was their worst followed by Kitty Chingota of Escom who had 6 mentions.
Others in the bottom part of the chart included Spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Rebecca Phwitiko (3), Presidential Press Secretary, Gerald Viola (3) Ministry of Local government spokesperson, Muhlabase Mughogho (2).
Adrian Chikumbe and Kitty Chingota were contacted but did not respond to our request for their reaction.
Muhlabase Mughogho seemed surprised that she was mentioned.
“Yes it’s true I haven’t responded to 2 out of over hundred questionnaires that I have received and I explained why.
“I get rude questionnaires I receive rude phone calls I have never ignored a single call nor questionnaire. But well, we are different people and understand things differently,” she said.
Phwitiko said she was with the minister and could not fully concentrate and respond on the issue.
Wisdom Chimgwede, former practicing radio and print journalist and now media scholar in the United Kingdom said the issue of the spokespersons is complicated.
Chimgwede said some PROs have been in the newsroom and know the pressures journalists face but are unable to deliver because their new PR jobs present new challenges.
He added that some PR officers are by training designed to cautiously deal with journalists while some do not have communication training and as such do not know how to do their basic jobs such as writing press statements and always view media inquiries with suspicion.
He however exhorted journalists to remember that ‘media relations’ is just a small fraction of these people’s in-trays and that patience and prior planning/researching for their interviews/questionnaires is critical to getting timely and required information.
“Notwithstanding the challenges on both sides of the divide, a good communication person should learn to balance the act.
“Your institution should be happy, for a job well done, but not at the expense of suffocating information supply to the public. Unfortunately, the media are mostly the sure way of communicating with the public,” said Chimgwede.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :