Tuesday, May 4, 2010

PRESS FREEDOM DAY

As the people all over the world commemorate this day, Malawian journalists will as usual take to the streets in Blantyre carrying placards with various messages written on them. I would have joined them had it been that I was in Blantyre but am some 80km away and will be working the whole day. I respect and value this noble profession for the mere fact that they feed my growing appetite for information but I don’t envy their salaries or the environment that they work in.

The past year has been very interesting in relation to press freedom in Malawi. If you were in the shoes of the Nation Newspaper you should have been complaining of the advertisement ban from the government and its various departments which came along in that period. I guess you could have written a placard expressing your anger at the treatment your fellow journalists went through in trying to cover government events.

In the eyes of the newly born Weekend Times, you should have bemoaned how easy it was to expose scandals of high profile people. The freedom of writing whatever you found of other people’s lives could have been on your lips all the way to the end of the big walk. If you were Brian Banda you could have thanked all the people who have graced your latest program, Capital Straight Talk. Some questions you asked are sensitive but you forced your way to get the answers. Big fish from both sides of the coin have been your guests. Sad that the drycleaner is not here to join his brother, Paparazi, Makiyolobasi, Twister and Bartender in displaying linen they have been trying to clean all this time.
From a layman’s point of view, we are still enjoying the freedom of expression we voted for in 1994 but there are some areas we can do better. The public broadcasters are still singing praises to the government of the day just as it was with the past regimes. It shows that journalists working in these media houses are not yet free to write or report what they want to (or have they been brainwashed to the point that they don’t see anything newsworthy in the opposing views). Some time there was talk that changing the Communications Act was the only way of making sure that every party will be heard on the public broadcaster. There is no better time to debate and pass the Access to Information bill and change the Communications Act than now when the ruling party has a majority in Parliament.

By the end of the day after a tiresome walk, there will be a dance at Mount Soche Hotel where outstanding journalists will be awarded for their good work. As consumers of the information they report, we don’t have much say on the awards but if I were given a chance I could have chosen Brian Banda and his Capital Straight Talk as the best thing that has happened to the media fraternity the past year. The questions asked in the program are superb, the guests interviewed are at the thick of things and the reporter is just very good. Then there is the Sunday Times. It is a full package that Malawians in need of information needs to read. Muckraking on Sunday, Just a word, Hard Tackle, Wings of Hope, Oped and True Life drama are simply the best. Maybe Zebedee is too old to be getting praises but he is still giving out the best.

Finally I wish all the media guys a very good day in celebrating press freedom. But don’t get very drunk to miss stories for tomorrow’s front pages.