Celebrating Press Freedom and elections in Malawi

Last Friday and Saturday, media practitioners from across the nation gathered in Blantyre to celebrate World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) through a march, awards giving gala dinner and a public debate.

Journalism First

WPFD falls on May 3 every year. This is a day set aside by the United Nations to celebrate and reflect on the role the media plays in various spheres of the society more especially in fostering democracy, good governance and accountability.
In this  column , we take a break on looking at women and elections, to reflect on the role of the media in ensuring a free, fair and credible elections more especially as we prepare for May 21, 2019 Tripartite Elections.
The need for free and unhindered freedom of the press and freedom of expression needs no emphasis. We are blessed in Malawi that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are enshrined in the Constitution.
The media play a crucial role in the elections by ensuring that the voters are well informed about their right to participate, they are motivated to participate in the various electoral processes, and that they trust the various processes, structures and systems put in place to properly run the election.
It is against this background that we need an open, free and independent media to constantly inform the electorate about the various electoral processes, their rights and responsibilities; a media that can build an informed and motivated citizenry that is willing to participate in the various electoral processes.  A professional media ensures that citizens are well informed and can make independent and informed decisions.
As we celebrate WPFD we should also focus on the role the social media has increasingly come to play in our society and elections period inclusive. The social media has become prone to pseudo characters and impostors who have abused it to victimize innocent institutions and persons. Media practitioners should remember that media ethics still apply on online platforms and they should be conscience of that.
The MEC has been touting the electoral cycle philosophy as its approach to the 2019 elections. This means that elections are no longer an event but a process. Considering the critical role of the media in electoral processes it is right and proper that the journalists also follow suit. Reporting on electoral processes should not be concentrated during the elections period only. With the electoral cycle approach, it means there are many activities MEC will implement which the public should be made aware of.
Media should even be critical during the in-between the ballot period ensuring that the MEC is preparing well for the next elections as per its commitments. Sustained media reporting on elections will translate into an interested citizenry that will be informed about electoral processes.
This is more critical considering that now many organisatons and institutions have come up to lobby and advocate for increased women participation in elections as candidates. The media should add their voice to this by critically analysis the political processes and the challenges that women face if they want to participate.
The media should also provide a platform for the women candidates to be heard by all stakeholders.
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