Gregory Gondwe, Malawi Best Blogger 2014

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Mutharika’s Media Manipulation

Take it or leave it, I have concrete grounds to declare that President Bingu wa Mutharika, or is it his lieutenants, are trying to or are manipulating the media to set his agendas in motion.
While we still lament government’s contribution or lack of it in delaying the adoption of the much talked about Access to Information Bill, I believe it is part of Mutharika’s strategies to manipulate the media hence the failure to make this important Bill an Act of Law.
You see, whenever I am looking for any information from the office of His Excellency, whatever or however undemanding that information may be, Mutharika’s all-knowing press officer would tell me to wait.
It is either he is busy in a meeting or he wants to find out details from the president. He rarely comes back to the enquiring journalists, sad.
It is understandable considering how sensitive his position is as it thrives on the whims of the president who it has been acknowledged is very unpredictable on his bad days.
However, it becomes distasteful when the technocrats or officers in government ministries behave likewise or sometimes just more than the president’s press office. The worst thing is that they pretend to be the best custodians of public information held in their domain.
They tell you it is confidential information and they are obliged to protect it. Sadly, this protection is at the expense of transparency and accountability.
Just last week, we were carrying on an investigation on a certain story and sought clarifications from Secretary to the Treasury Patrick Kabambe.
I talked to several people at the ministry headquarters who finally referred me to the office secretary and when I made the formal introductions, I asked her to connect me to her boss but she regrettably told me he was locked up in a meeting.
After several hours, I called back as was advised to by the erstwhile good secretary only to be told he was still in a meeting and I was further advised to call again after two hours. Since I was busy after this two-hour-period, I asked my colleague in the newsroom to call the office.
Likewise, he told the secretary he was calling from The Chronicle and wanted her boss. She gave the same answer that he was in a meeting. Something started troubling this colleague of mine and then he decided to call again but this time he said he was Peter Banda from one of the dailies and immediately he was connected to Kabambe where he started with his sincere apologies for cheating his way to reach him.
I seem to be digressing, but I just wanted to give you a glimpse of what happens in the course of our job to give people balanced stories.
I don’t want to give out an impression that we always cheat when are investigating stories, no, but this is meant to give you a picture of problems we encounter when we are investigating stories for public interest.
You see, this is what I discovered in all newspapers that came out on February 10 concerning the ‘Letter of acceptance on Vice President Cassim Chilumpha’s constructive resignation’ or is it accumulative resignation or firing as put by all the print media by our president. I smelt a rat. It smacks of dishonesty on the part of the presidency.
Even our Malawi Television had a faxed copy of the letter, which was shown during news hour. I kept wondering what they were trying to champion. Moreover, believe you me, there was no investigative effort applied on the sourcing of that letter. It was willingly sent out and I hear that one newspaper had gotten it even before the vice president [or is it former] himself did.
Someone has to explain to me why the media was manipulated in that way or better still the truth behind the whole Chilumpha saga, because I have a better explanation, which is pointing to a very different reason and only vindicates all the media out-lets which reported that Chilumpha is fired.
Having realized that the state controlled media, MBC and Malawi Television were airing the letter even in vernacular languages; Chilumpha’s lawyers sought a court injunction to stop the two broadcasters from airing the contents of the letter. Unfortunately, the two institutions never adhered.
Now I hear Chilumpha’s lawyers want to include the two state controlled broadcasters on the contempt of court application for defying a clearly defined court order. If convicted, the taxpayers will meet the costs. Sad.
Why is it that Mutharika is manipulative? Is it because that letter was signed by him and he controls the government machinery or doesn’t he?

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