Nyasa Times Comment: Do not shoot the messenger!

It is a well-established fact that Malawian journalists contributed a lot to the fight for the introduction and consolidation of multiparty democracy in the country. Some, like Nkwapatira Mhango lost their lives in this quest. Others, like Jeffrey Msampha lost their jobs. For some, ‘telling it is it is’, as Maganizo Mazeze discovered, resulted to intimidation by the then ruling party thugs. Scribes such as Nyirenda ended up being beaten in full view of the police; and others know that even setting foot in Malawi would result in their immediate incarceration. But that is the price journalists are prepared to pay in order to tell Malawians the truth about our country.

Our country faces massive socio-economic problems that cannot be blamed on the devil alone. We at the Nyasa Times believe that our leadership is largely to blame, but at the same time, are realistic enough to understand that some of the criticism against  the state’s attempt to alleviate these challenges are not rooted in sound global economic considerations.

While we strongly believe the political cabal in the country has lost its moral authority to lead politically and economically, we have noted with concern that the current economic crisis facing European economies is not featuring in the alternative proposals being offered by opposition politicians and civil society institutions. But then that is the beauty of us Malawians. We are confrontational without being violent.

Such disagreements at policy level mean that journalists do take different perspectives. In fact, the productions of our news and reports are heavily influenced by the politics of those who control our media outlets. It is for this reason that Nyasa Times has remained relatively independent because of our (editorial directors Thom Chiumia and Edgar Chibaka)  being based away from Malawi and also because we are not owned by anyone with serious political interests. We are just a group of interested journalists who are passionate about our country.

But we do sympathise with our colleagues who are the footsoldiers of Malawi’s democracy – who remain underpaid, overworked, and in some cases, abused by arrogant employers, yet, nevertheless, travel the length and breadth of the country to search for news. What is important is that for many Malawian media outlets, what you read in the newspaper, listen to the radio or watch on television is not necessarily the actual story that our foot-soldier scribes initially observed, recorded and wrote about. Our reports from the field undergo a series of filtering processes that either consolidate or distort the original story. That is the power of the newsroom – something we, at the Nyasa Times got rid of at the time of establishment.

The behaviour of the Civil Society Organizations in banning our comrade scribes from the state broadcaster, MBC should therefore be condemned in the strongest terms. These are just honest men and women who come to record events as they see them, but it is the newsroom of Mzati Nkolokosa and the Chichiri Brothers Band that decides to distort the stories.

How do our CSOs, which we hold in high esteem when it comes to upholding democratic principles, set themselves apart from the thugs of the ruling party, that threaten and harass journalists? As the media scholar Linje Manyozo (London School of Economics) observes in one of his critical pieces on politics and journalism, Malawian journalists face huge impediments in their attempts to be professional – not just from the state and the market, but also from the civil society institutions- that are supposedly independent, rational and people-centred.

It is for this reason, that we call upon the Malawian CSOs that were at Crossroads Hotel to apologise to the MBC reporters they barred from their press conference, and assure them, in writing, that they will not repeat such despicable acts.

The problem is with MBC, and our efforts should be directed at transforming this institution, not harassing the innocent men and women, who do their work faithfully but are being let down by an ideologically twisted elite that is hell-bent on raping the original dream of Malawi’s democracy. Please, do not shoot the messenger!

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