Whenever we talk about community or national development, media becomes a hub. Yes, media is the light. It enlightens and updates people on progress of various development projects either at national or community level. Imagine the world without media. People would be waking up and going back to bed without knowing what is going on in their own country. Thanks to Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian who invented feasibility of radio communication in 1895. Also thanks to John Logie Baird who invented television in 1926, and Julius Ceasar who ordered the publishing of the first known newspaper, the Roman Acta Duruna, in 59 B.C.
We owe a lot to these people for their brilliant contributions to communication sector mainly when we think of the powerful role of communication in development projects. The relevance of their contributions to the world and Malawi in particular cannot be taken for granted. Our project on accountability and transparency is being implemented in four districts only. These are Rumphi, Mchinji, Phalombe and Nsanje. However, all other districts in the country are benefiting from the project by following the activities through the media. The media is very important on issues of accountability, transparency, and budget analysis. The general public is always interested to follow what the media provide on these issues. Following the Capital Hill Cashgate scandal involving looting of public funds and corruption in Malawi, the media has played a critical role in disseminating information, supporting with investigative journalism and generating the necessary debates, action and policy changes. The power of social media was also very critical in sharing this information.
A well informed media sector can provide a platform for policy change through investigative journalism on issues relating to the role of district councils, the parliament, executive oversight, civil society advocacy agendas and constituency representation.
Most of the budget activities need active involvement of the media. The first and primary task for the media has to be informing the public about the beginning of the budget and educate them as well. Thereafter, media should initiate discussions on the contents of the district council budget to ascertain whether it links to district priorities for the budget year and whether these priorities address the needs of the communities. The media has been involved at higher level but the involvement at district level has been very low This has left people at the grass root without knowledge of issues about budget, development planning and implementation. It is important that the media get access to the budget documents during the preparation stage to enable it to effectively carry out an awareness programme.
The involvement of the media and citizens could expose some weaknesses in the budget plan and could be a way to get the public’s attention to the budget process and for them to submit contributions as requested. It is believed that discussions would then guide the public on what inputs to make, especially for those who do not read and speak English. During national budget analysis the public may not physically attend the parliamentary budget session but can be kept updated of the deliberations via the media. Currently it is only Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) and Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) that are able to cover live parliamentary deliberations. This gives an opportunity for the general public to follow discussions regarding the budget but there is no effective feedback mechanism at this point, hence no room for the citizens or interest groups to influence the budget. Other media do synthesize the proceedings and disseminate at a later time. According to our survey, 50 percent of the media houses are accessing parliamentary records on budget debates. At district level, the percentages are 75 percent in
Rumphi, 50 percent in Phalombe and 60 percent both in Mchinji and Nsanje. For those media houses that cover legislative debates, all the journalists are involved at one point or the other. With this generalisation of roles in the media houses it is important that any effort to drill the media with budget analysis information should focus on media houses and not always on particular journalists. Few media houses such as Capital FM have specific journalists who work in the area of governance.
Our survey also shows that 50 percent of the journalists in media houses cover legislative debates on budget policy. These are journalists from national level media households. At the time of this survey, community media houses did not have any journalist covering legislative debates on budget policy. Thus, there is need for deliberate efforts to drill the community media on budget analysis and other related issues. Most people in rural areas value community media because of proximity as they are part of the news. Therefore, it is important to involve community media whenever implementing development projects. ■
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