This article seeks to examine how Malawi’s former Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo is represented in the media, specifically the Nation newspaper, as well as ideologies attached to such representations with relevant examples.
Representation is referred to as the process through which words and images stand in for ideas, individuals, social groups and other categories. Representations have the power to select, arrange and prioritize certain assumptions and ideas about different kinds of people, bringing some to the fore, dramatizing and idealizing or demonizing them, while casting others into the social margins, so that they have little active public presence or only a narrow and negative public image (Bob Franklin et al 2005:233).
Therefore, it could be argued that the representation is constructed with a set of ideas and values that reflect the producer’s intent or indeed intended meaning.
Ideology is a difficult – but important – concept to grasp. Simply put, it is the ideas behind a media text, the secret (or sometimes not-so secret) agenda of its producers. It is important to be able to identify the different ideological discourses that may be present in even an apparently simple photograph (http://www.mediaknowall.com/as_alevel/alevkeyconcepts/alevelkeycon.php?pageID=ideology)
Whilst content analysis and semiotics may shed light on media content, Marxist theory highlights the material conditions of media production and reception. Because of the distribution of power in society, some versions of reality have more influence than others (http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/marxism/marxism13.html)
According to the Nation of 25th July 2013, ‘Introducing Paul Mphwiyo, New Budget Director’ the publication glorifies and underlines how prestigious Mphwiyo is, thereby legitimizing his greatness as a star.
‘At only 37, Ivy League educated Paul Mphwiyo is the new Budget Director, a cross-cutting job that puts him not only at the nexus of the fiscus, but also gives him the responsibility of providing direction to the Malawi economy. He is not there by mistake… Mphwiyo brings unique core skills to the job that is as critical to the country’s economic growth as it is controversial’ (Nation: 25th July, 2013).
The use of adjectives like ‘Ivy League’, ‘He is not there by mistake’, ‘brings unique core skills’ do not only push for a legitimized ideology around the class of Mphwiyo, but also underline that he as exceptional elite person thereby championing Bob Franklin et al argument that representations have the power to select, arrange and prioritize certain assumptions and ideas about different kinds of people, bringing some to the fore.
In fundamentalist Marxism, ideology is ‘false consciousness’, which results from the emulation of the dominant ideology by those whose interests it does not reflect. From this perspective the mass media disseminate the dominant ideology: the values of the class which owns and controls the media (Curran et al. 1982: 26)
Looking at this context, it definitely collaborates with what other scholars say that media texts always reflect certain values or ideologies though sometimes we may not be aware of this. (http://media-studies.tki.org.nz/Teaching-media-studies/Media-concepts/Ideology).
In the aftermath of the shooting of Mphwiyo, the publication carried a story ‘Mphwiyo received death threats’ and an editorial ‘Malawi needs the likes of Mphwiyo’ in the same edition.
According to the story “during his two months as budget director, Mphwiyo has also cracked down on dubious government contracts and payments that were conduit for siphoning out billions of taxpayers’ money but which the Ivy League trained economist has largely cancelled… Mphwiyo also introduced tough measures of controlling expenditure during his two months’ as budget chief” (Nation : 15th September 2013).
Apart from legitimation, another strategy used to promote the ‘Mphwiyo legacy’ ideology in the Nation is charismatic ground. Thus, the paper is deliberately appealing to the exceptional character of an individual, in this case, Mphwiyo.
In its editorial ‘Malawi needs the likes of Mphwiyo’, the paper colourfully writes that ‘we take pride in the necessary changes Mphwiyo has brought to the public finance and economic management architecture… Here is a man who wants to make a difference after noting the rot in the system and the implications such dirt has had on the country’s resources and its macro economy. As citizens, we need technocrats such as Mphwiyo to take the country forward –tough, passionate and courageous public servants who love their country enough to put their necks on the line. Mphwiyo deserves the support of every Malawian of goodwill’ (Nation: 15th September 2013).
Perhaps this representation of Mphwiyo, portraying him as a champion pushes an ideology largely. In Louis Althusser’s sense, ideology represents individuals’ relationship to reality, and this relationship is both real and imaginary. Real; because it’s the concrete condition in which individuals live. Imaginery; because it prevents the individuals from recognizing the real nature of the relations which govern their existence (Indian Philosophical Quarterly 1995: 348)
Therefore, much as the Nation could be arguably setting an agenda as regards the ‘super manship’ of Mphwiyo, the publication paid a blind eye to investigating the whole matter in abid to establish facts.
In December 2013, the paper carried a story ‘Mphwiyo Outwits PAC’ which apparently highlighted how smart Mphwiyo was in answering questions about his shooting before the Public Appointments Committee of the Malawi Parliament.
‘During the long-awaited session, Mphwiyo successfully parried away questions about his wealth and links to suspects in his shooting… dressed in a dark suit and looking full of life… his concluding remarks met with applause from some committee members’ (Nation: 11th December, 2013).
These texts consistently glorify Mphwiyo as an individual thereby giving out preferential representation. Therefore, ideology is a word that is highly thought of where media is concerned. Radio, news, and film all use ideology to persuade viewers and listeners.
Having looked at and analysed the Nation newspapers’ content about its coverage and representation of Mphwiyo, it can be argued the media have the power to create, destroy, and persuade; even dictate one’s own thinking. Nevertheless, news material should not attribute it’s weight to opinion other than facts.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :