NACgate and challenges of objectivity journalism in Malawi

“Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what George Orwell called the ‘official truth’. They simply cipher and transmit lies… many journalists become so defensive when you suggest to them that they are anything but impartial and objective. The problem with those words ‘impartiality’ and ‘objectivity’ is that they have lost their dictionary meaning.” ~ John Pilgernacgate

For Malawians working and interested in current affairs, the last few months must have been interesting. The judiciary strikes and the National Aids Commission (NAC) MK5 million saga have been a source of endless flow of news and information. These have provided the kind of news that is always handy for the media that is cultured in reporting both sides of the story and let readers and audiences to judge for themselves – the convenient premise of objectivity.

After weeks of debates, arguments and counter arguments in the press, an average Malawian still cannot fully explain what the so called NACgate is all about. This is because news headlines and reports have been following the noise around the issue, regurgitating arguments and counter arguments instead of stepping back, separate facts from the fluff, and report the straightforward truth. Any journalist worth their name in Malawi should know where the truth on the issue is. But this is comprised by journalist’s quest for objectivity, which for most journalists simply means reporting both sides of the story.

News must be balanced, of course. All parties involved must have a fair hearing, this is important part of news reporting even though balancing the news does not always guarantee neutrality or fairness, even when sources are treated fairly. This is because the choice of balancing sources is not always objective, if ever. A news source on one side of the argument can be a more authoritative figure who commands much more respect in society than their opposite.

This is one of the reasons why letting ‘both sides’ of the story determine the truth of the matter is always problematic. It only adds to confusion instead of clarifying issues. Journalists who, mistakenly, believe that it is enough to simply tell ‘both sides’ of the story, as long as the information is correct and has been presented accurately, compromise accuracy and truthfulness in journalism.

The late New York Times columnist, Molly Ivins once noticed, “the very notion that on any given story all you have to do is to report what both sides say and you have done a fine job of objectivity journalism debilitates the press.” He added:

“In the first place, most stories aren’t two-sided, they’re 17-sided at least. In the second place it’s of no help to either the readers or the truth to quote one side saying “Cat” and the other side saying “Dog”, while the truth is there’s an elephant crashing around out there in the bushes.”

Think of NACgate here, the crux of the matter is that money donated by Global Fund to the people of Malawi, to help fight HVI/Aids epidemic and other diseases has been abused by those entrusted with it. The money has been used to fund a launch of a trust that has nothing to do with fight against HIV/Aids, a trust owned by one of the country’s powerful individuals, the country’s First Lady. This is where the matter is. All other arguments put forward cannot change the fact that the money has been abused.

Journalism has a duty to set such record straight – the truth. Instead, it is those who take a stance against such abuse of state resources that always have to defend their anger in the national press. This is because journalist believe determining what the truth is would compromise their objective and neutral role. Objectivity does not mean perpetuating falsehood and inaccuracies. Journalists ought to play an educative role and not disinterest mediators who are only there to present the case regardless where the truth lay.

The renowned journalist, Chris Hedges noticed that this kind of journalism “disarms and cripple the press”. Hedges added that journalism becomes a convenient and profitable vehicle to avoid confronting unpleasant truths. This creed, he goes on, “transform reporters into neutral observers or voyeurs. It banishes empathy, passion and a quest for justice. Reporters are permitted to watch but not to feel or to speak in their own voices. They function as “professionals” and see themselves as dispassionate and disinterested social scientists.”

Good journalism must analyse accounts from ‘both sides’ of the story, crosscheck sources’ statements against available evidence and report what the truth actually is. Journalists are not there to report exactly what sources of information tell them, the “he said, she said” journalism. Professor of journalism at New York State University, Jay Rosen calls this “one of the lowest forms of journalism in existence”. And he is right.

Balance has its use and it remains a very important part of news coverage but it must not come at the expense of reporting the truth. The point of balance in journalism is to uphold truth and shine light where darkness is. It is not being subjective if journalists expose lies or ask sources to substantiate their allegations; it is not right for a journalist to report information they clearly know is incorrect just because they are afraid of contradict their sources. These issues only empower the powerful against vulnerable groups. Journalism has a moral duty to check against this.

  • Jimmy Kainja is a full-time lecturer at Chancellor College, University of Malawi, a Nyasa Times columnist every Wednesday and a current affairs writer and blogger.
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33 thoughts on “NACgate and challenges of objectivity journalism in Malawi”

  1. musisipala says:

    Fellow Malawians let s live together as one. We should stop pointing fingures at one another but together as one.

  2. lingtone says:

    Ayi ndithu zosayendatu apa .chonchi otithandizawa atithandizapo apa?

  3. Mlomwe12 says:

    This staff is really written by someone who imparts knowledge. In fact, some of us have learnt something from this, esp journalists who lack objectivity.

  4. Petro John says:

    Ngati kuli mbuzi zaanthu inu amene mukupanga support mlako ndi Beam kutenga ndalama zothandizira anthu odwala HIV and AIDS ndikuzipititsa kosayenera.Wina nkumati I am ashamed ndi Mtambo komanso kabwira those are graduates undiuze school yomwe unapita iwe wanzeru mlomwe iwe,kulemba timacomment topanda pake.Iweyo ndiife tikuvutikira limodzi akutizunza kapolo wakuZimbabwe socalled APMtalika.I am disapointed with you poor Malawians,munthu wina akufuna kuthandiza wina akumunyoza,iwe ukunyoza ukupatsidwa chiyani ndalama anachita misuse first lady yo akugawirako?Be reseasonable pochita timacomment tanu.

  5. Alex Likoswe says:

    Good writing and very objective. Sanitation has nothing to do with HIV/Aids -period.

    People are paid to counter these good arguments.Indeed if we continue with this attitute to glorify wrong, we shall maintain position 5 as the bottom least developed, enlightened country.

  6. Ngozo says:

    Whatever happened with NAC funds has caused Global Fund to stop directing HIV & AIDS funds through NAC, such funds will now be funded through Ministry of Health. This means that the 75% of NAC budget has been withdrawn. What a shame to NAC.

  7. phodogoma says:

    Timothy Mtambo on your placker is it ashemed or ashamed? I saw you. You carried it. Thats Mtumbuka.Or is it nacgate language?

  8. Professor says:

    Kainja, I am also dissappointed that you have sided with those who have partial truth on the matter. In your right sense, are you saying BEAM and Mulhakho have no activities that warrants them to source funds from NAC? BEAM deals with environmental health, and to hear that it has nothing to do with HIV/AIDS, I am also afraid that our kids in your course are not safe, if this is the calibre of lecturers that we have at Chancol.

    1. kanchenga says:

      Kainja is absolutely right. No matter how dirty a place may be you can not contact HIV virus by staying at that place. Please don’t justify wrong. What Kainja is saying is not all stories have neutral reportable side. There are times when telling the truth will look like siding and not balancing reporting. Now NAC is fighting Hiv Aids. They finance a grouping that parades naked young girls most of them ready for sex and you call that fighting HIV. This is foolishness. Knowing Lhomwes can you imaging how many young girls are fucked both on that day and during rehearsals. As rightfully pointed out by Mangulama lhomwe belt has one of the highest prevalence rate in the country. One of the reasons is their culture. How now do you think that can change through encouraging the same.This is like financing Nyau dancing competition among school going boys during schooling period. Total rubbish.

  9. Mmihavani says:

    If Jimmy is indeed a lecturer at Chancol am sorry we are all doomed. No wonder our graduates are substandard. With his clumsy reasoning and writing, how can he supervise students? Aaaaa University of Malawi yatha basi.

  10. Mukanene za ife mutopa says:

    Koma anganya mukutichititsa manyazi. We are really “ashemed”. Zoona kuyenda kungowongola ziboda basi. Ena amati mfwiii mfwiii ali pa 13 boma tikutenga. Ati akalipereke kwa Jezebel uja adagwa chagada uja. Lero mwanyazi bwa? Koma zoona a chi na Mtambo “zida” lendelende a chi na Jessie “mapilikanilo” kwapatakwapata demo yake imene ija? We are really “ASHEMED!”

  11. Gona n'kuphe sali patali says:

    Jimmy ur ryt and i oz so irritated listening to dis report against da demos on MIJ FM, a radio station 4 de journalism xul & oz left wondering w@ sort of journalist r being moulded vea? Total trush no side of demonstrators oz featured. Dis iz bad 4 aspiring journalist like maself coz objectivity cmes 1st & ven sebjectivity follows

  12. Grace says:

    Please check the speeling of Ashamed? really? I am ashamed ndithu……

  13. chiyembekezo zidana says:

    Mr Jimmy Kainja, from your article i still dont get what NACgate is all about.You tried to explain that NACgate is the use of HIV/AIDS donated money by an organisation that has nothing to do with HIV/AIDS.You talked about impartiality and objectivity somewhere in your article that i have also observed that you lack as well. Would you please tell us how the money got into that organisation you are talking about. Who requested for this money? What was the purpose of this money? Were all the procedures of releasing NAC money followed? was the approval properly done? who received the money? who used the money? We need all the information for your article to make much sense otherwise it falls under the same category of reporting you are against.

  14. mac says:

    This writer writes a lot of gibberish.

    Truth is subjective – and people can only arrive at it based on objective assessment of facts. Journalists – especially the half baked, copy and paste, cheque book journalists we have in Malawi – do not have the monopoly of intelligence for them to determine what is true or not. Their role is to tell the two sides of the story and let the reader – who in most cases is more intelligent that these drunks who masquerade as journalists here – to make up their mind on what is true.

    One just has to look at the article above to know that the copy and paste , no originality article above – leaves Malawi so vulnerable to people who think they know yet they do not.

  15. ‘Balancing’ is much important for you,journalists.We judge you according to how unprofesssionally you have put your article.For referencecheck Mr Tenthani’s unbalanced article that was put on sunday, 11 jan.His views were lacking reference he is fond of taking side.He is a good journalist,but little by little,his natural talents are declining!

  16. Chithumwa says:

    Journalism in Malawi, especially with this DPP administration, has indeed gone to the dogs. A good example is today’s editorial in The Nation going to town on yesterday’s demo, saying the organisers should have postponed it and instead ‘joined hands with government regarding the floods’! Really?

    We have a government Department of Disasters: What has it done so far? In the first instance it is government that is supposed to respond. We pay taxes and vote for the government to take the lead role in these matters. It does not make sense to point fingers at CSOs without first checking that government has done the needful. What assistance has government provided so far?

    Even in the case of the Paris bombing which for some bizarre reason the editorial cited as an example it was the government that reacted first, others came in to support later. If The Nation editor wanted to attack yesterday’s petition he should have done so without linking it to the current floods. This culture of attacking weak victims of government arrogance and incompetence must stop if Malawi is to move forward.

    1. I totally agree with u Chithumwa. Infact the jounalists in Malawi, support the government of the day. Stincking jonalism.

  17. Blessing says:

    Tired reading it ,why not calling all the Journalists in Malawi and lecturing them on part time ,they really need yr sound knowledge .

  18. DOBO says:

    Indeed,Malawi journalists bring confusion to issues that can be well understood if if well presented.For example, the issue of NAC funding to certain organisations was brought to a total confusion by journalists like from Galaxy and MBC. I think poverty is the source of this.

  19. Clement says:

    Ndalama zama jesuits zadyedwabe basi no refund

  20. Teketeke says:

    Now Mr. Jimmy Kainja, while I appreciate your facts, I still think your example of 5 million from NAC doesn’t make sense to a reader when you just stress on ‘abuse’ and end there.
    There’re questions like who ‘abused’ the funds, for example? Who facilitated the ‘abuse’? Who exactly is to blame for the ‘abuse’?
    If let unanswered in the NACgate report by a journo, then it’ll smack of biase or a story left hanging. A good report must strive to give picture on the premise of trying to answer readers’ questions. Then that is objective reporting.
    Don’t forget reporting is about informing and educating the public while some will also be entertained along the way!

  21. Jelbin mk says:

    I mean, I was expecting you to point out where discrepancies were about NAC-gate reports and the in objectivities manifested by the media on NAC-gate.

  22. Jelbin mk says:

    Mr Kainja let ne be honest here with ur article, I didn’t get the exact point you were trying to drive at otherwise it would been a good one if it had some knocking points and if it was directly reflecting to the heading ahead am sorry to say it was pointless.

  23. BalakaGuy says:

    Iiiiiii koma umbuli winawu,nanga ashamed spelling yake ndi imeneyo,munthu kuchoka kunyumba mpaka osapanga check spelling mpakana ndi kutuluka nayo mpakana mu street,manyazi bwa,anthu openga mwapanga bwanji

  24. The Truth says:

    Nowadays what we have is a crop of corrupted reporters and SCOs who are expected to offer checks and balances to any current leadership of the country. Most of them are influenced by what they get from news makers in their reporting or actions hence the biasness. We are told that Mulhakho and Beam are not the first organizations to abuse NAC funds. Where were those reporters and SCOs when some organizations were busy abusing NAC money before these current organizations that are being accused of abusing NAC money meant for aids related problems. We need to expose all these abusers whenever a need arises without being influenced with our political affiliations or greed for money.
    Look at what happened in the past 2 years. Cash gate issue was reported in a funny way that even ordinary citizen could sense something fishy in the whole saga. We were told that what PP got from cash gate was smaller than what DPP got from cash gate. The subject was not about who abused more money than the other, Malawians expect these people in government to put our money to good use once they misuse it they should be held responsible for abusing the money. The PP government clearly accepted their sin by saying that what they got from cash gate is just a peanut when compared with what DPP stole. This is a clear evidence that our governments are made of thieves. We should punish all of them when caught abusing our money. The one who was caught in the act of cash gate was supposed to be punished immediately and who ever participated or benefited in this be it on the day of the act exposure or some years ago should also face the rule of law.
    To my surprise the self acclaimed civil society organizations did not held any sound actions to show the PP government that they are stealing our money. They were quite as if they were also beneficiaries of the cash gate. The past government even went further lying to us that our maize got rotten in our silos while in actual sense the maize was used as a bait to the voters. These SCOs were numb and quite as if all is well.

  25. Mendulo says:

    The NAC money was refunded by Concerned Businessmen on behalf of BEAM. Which money are these demonstrators talking about? They cannot even spell the word ‘ashamed’ correctly, writing it as ‘ashemed’ on their board!

  26. Malawi wa Lero says:

    Kulemba tu uku. MBC lots (ndilunena ma so called journals), dont read what Jimmy has written bcoz u will commit suicide. An embarrasing lot!


  28. Patriot says:

    Musayiwale kuti it is only George Kasakula ndi Times TV amene anabweza k50,000 ija.
    Ena onse aja sanabweze, ndiye sangalembe zotsusana ndi dzanja lowadyetsa.

  29. mikeyasi says:

    The article is ambigous as it does not dusplay how the reporting has lacked objectivity by failure to sight examples from the stories. A crutic should be complete and not vague as this one has been. I have failed to pick the essence of the aryicke and it is thecsame as the political noise like of the opposition that offfers no alternatives

  30. Adini M Chiwa says:

    when did u discover about this???

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