It was a loooooong year. Yet 366 days of a leap year, as usual. What made the year long and eventful? The answer is yours. I cannot tell. But it is nice to be in the New Year, to be part of those who celebrated the New Year.
It was the year I learned that I need not symapthise with opposition leaders who usually survive on our sympathy. Muluzi did so when he was leading UDF as a pressure group. Gwanda Chakuamba survived on our sympathy when UDF Young Democrats burned an MCP Land Rover in Chiradzulu. Brown Mpinganjira appealed to our sympathy when he formed NDA. Now Bakili Muluzi wants our sympathy because he is leading an opposition party.
Is our work to sympathise with opposition parties? No. Our work is to do for Malawi what will develop our country. Opposition parties which have a majority in Parliament should not seek to buy our sympathy but make laws that are good for all of us.
But they will not because they want to abuse the state machinery when they get into power. Which is why you and me must never support politicians who work towards their personal benefit over national benefit. Let us make the year 2009 the year for Malawi.
One old question that has come from 2008 is on the media and endorsements of presidential candidates. Some media practioners have suggested that we should endorse candidates because—they have one reason only—it happens in the US. This to me sounds like Muluzi’s joke that he wants to contest the elections for one reason: to remove Bingu wa Mutharika from the State House.
Should we do something because it happens in the US? This sounds like the ban of matola in Malawi simply because we copied our laws from Britain where matola is banned but they have an effective public transport system which we don’t have here. We copy the spirit and leave the body.
There are questions that must be asked regarding endorsement of presidential candidates. They are questions of citizenship and professionalism. And this is where theory comes in because it answers the whys and the hows. The reality is that most journalists in Malawi value practice more than theory, yet there is no practice without theory. Without theory all one does are experiments and accidents.
What was the historical reasons for endorsing candidates in the US? Newspapers were owned by politicians or people with political connections, hence it was necessary and in their interest to endorse candidates. Why should we do the same in Malawi today?
Again there are issues of citizenship. This—citizenship—is the highest office in the country. We often think the highest office is that of a President. But it is not. The office of a citizen is the highest. Which is why we must leave citizens to make private decisions on who they want to hire for President. Voting is one of the most private duties. Let the citizens assess the candidates and make a private choice.
The issue of professionalism comes in as well. How can I be impartial in reporting about John Tembo on page two when I have endorsed Muluzi on page one? What we have to do is to report and write critically and leave citizens to make a choice; we need to assess the candidates and say on education, X says so which is better than what Y says. At the end of the day people will see who, in their judgment scores highest.
Endorsing candidates is not the call of journalism in the new century. Journalism in Malawi has challenges that need thorough debate, not talking about endorsing candidates. We have poor analytical skills, hence we describe every album as a bomb. We lack tools (theories) for meaning generation out of events, ideas, and issues. We lack writing skills. We lack education which is our greatest requirement.
People talk about media freedom. I don’t need freedom from laws really. I need from that comes from education. Freedom is the power to do what is right and this comes from education.
Above all our greatest need is to raise circulation whose low figures are not inspiring. If you buy a newspaper everyday at K100, you need K3,000 to buy a paper everyday for a month. And there are over a 100,000 Malawians who can afford this amount. Why do we sell a lot less than 100,000 copies? The reason is more in us journalists than it is with readers.
My plain view is that it is time to work on journalism, not waste time discussing whether or not we should be endorsing presidential candidates.