The folly of engaging foreign media at expense of local over Malawi cashgate

By now the whole State House communication machinery, if there is such a thing in the first place, must have seen that perhaps the idea of engaging an up market UK public relations firm to clean up the cashgate- battered image of government in the eyes of a foreign audience was a bad one, after all.

The fingerprints of Bell Pottinger are all over the jaunts in which President Joyce Banda was hurled from newsroom to another in London and elsewhere, culminating into interviews with The Daily Telegraph, Financial Times and Al Jezeera, among other media houses.

To say that the dates with the foreign media were a spectacular failure is an understatement.

Discerning eyes saw a goofing president who was not prepared and did not have facts at her fingertips.

Audiences across the world saw a Malawian President who was not groomed in advance and was clearly tensed and fidgeted in front of television cameras.

The result was mangling and mumbling of facts and throwing out of the window diplomatic etiquette that could easily worsen the already fragile relationship with Tanzania after the President uncharacteristically and wrongly justified government acquisition of armed boats on Lake Malawi by saying that country has invaded us.

But this was to be expected. The foreign media, free from both covert and overt shackles of government and big business from Malawi cannot be deterred from asking the tough questions– Bell Pottinger or no Bell Pottinger—as they see fit.

Which lead us to the folly of this Presidency which has the habit of engaging foreign media at the expense of the local media to communicate to the public.

Many a time the media in Malawi, especially private, have complained of the difficulties they face in talking to their own President when the opposite is the reality for foreign journalists as the present scenario shows.

During the rare moments when the President decides to address local media,  officials in her office makes sure that the atmosphere is aptly poisoned with the availability of party cadres who boo and shout obscenities at what they perceive to be unfriendly questions from media men and women.

But we, at Nyasa Times, believe the President and her communication team can do better.

For starters, the hiring of Bell Pottinger to launder her reputation and that of her government in foreign lands was a monumental mistake and a waste of resources wherever they might have come from.

We hold that what Malawians need is a change in their social, economic and political fortunes and we are afraid to say this can only manifest through tangible programs and not image makers from abroad that place empty public relations stunts at a premium and expense of substance.

These have no idea of Malawians in Malawi and what they need.

Engaging the local media, on the other hand, can go a long way to achieve and placate a long suffering population that is reaching the end of its tether.

There is some folly in working with the foreign media at the expense of the local one.

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