A stitch in time serves nine. Malawi President Joyce Banda’s recent press conference at Chileka Airport when she was returning from an overseas trip rekindled the media of the ‘press rallies’ late president Bingu wa Mutharika was conduting.
During Mutharika’s reign, journalists complained that the news conferences were done in the presence of political party cohorts who would heckle them whenever they ask questions.
But last week, the journalists were again unhappy to see a repeat of such environment when they had to squat or stand because all seats were filled by chiefs, religious leaders and party zealots.
The Malawi chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Malawi) chair person Anthony Kasunda observed that the situation at the airport was hostile to journalists.
“We indeed observed that the VVIP where there was a news conference was packed with chiefs and party officials. We are not in any way against such people welcoming the President but our concern is that such environment intimidates reporters,” said Kasunda in a response to Nyasa Times questionnaire.
“It is not conducive for a healthy flow of information. We are still looking forward to an opportunity to meet the President where we are going to raise all our concerns and the conduct of presidential news conferences is one of them,” he added.
Newspaper columnist, Raphael Tenthani, writing in his ‘Muckraking on Sunday’ published in the Sunday Times also lashed out at the presence of “hand clappers” at the presser.
“ I have huge respect for chiefs and religious leaders but what were these folks doing at a press conference they had no question to answer? Journalists, who were supposed to be main actors at the event, had to squat or stand because all seats were occupied by characters whose only role was to clap hands,” Tenthani wrote.
Tenthani hopes new press secretary Steve Nhlane and a band of press officers will bring sanity into the president’s office.
“ Surely journalists don’t need their ‘brilliant’ questions applauded or their ‘stupid’ questions booed. They just have to have their questions answered, be they brilliant or stupid……After all, the judge of the brilliance or stupidity of a question is the listener or reader,” he writes.