Hon Folks, it’s heartening to hear Misa-Malawi elections, postponed last Saturday due to claims of irregularities with the voter roll, will finally be held at an extraordinary annual general meeting in Lilongwe on June 3.
Logistics for the meeting are crude and tilt the attendance in favour of Lilongwe-based journalists. But for those from the other districts, especially from far-away South and North, it’s a pick-two in a game of cards.
Reports indicate they are required to meet the cost for their accommodation, transport and meals if they are to participate. For some—if not many—that may be too taxing for the pocket considering the elections are coming on heels of the World Press Freedom Day commemorations held on May 6, again in Lilongwe.
It’d be sad if any eligible member is disenfranchised just because they could not afford the high and inequitable costs of centralised polling. Going forward, Misa Malawi may wish to consider setting up “polling centres” in the country’s regional capitals—Lilongwe for the Centre, Blantyre for the South and Mzuzu for the North.
That said, disputes over the voter roll were not the only problem rocking Misa Malawi elections. Political interference and corruption are also nibbling at its credibility like locusts in a maize garden.
It was “huh, huh” and “leave the media alone” on social media when reports indicated politicians were so interested in the outcome of the elections that they ensured their favoured candidates had the financial muscle to “buy” the vote with splurges.
A similar concern loomed large in the run-up to the previous elections. Interestingly, despite corruption being both a crime and a violation of journalism ethics, allegations of corruption in the media are never vigorously probed.
At the national anti-corruption conference in Lilongwe last week, APM vehemently defended his government against allegations of rampant corruption, saying it’s more a perception than reality.
Ironically, the President lamented in the same breath that cheque book journalism is what is destroying the good image of government, saying reporters are paid to write such fake news as the claim that an audit report has implicated seven of his Cabinet ministers in Cashgate.
Whether or not there is any merit in APM’s claim will be known if and when all names implicated in the K236 billion Cashgate audit of the period 2009-2014 is published. What can’t be denied, though, is that the President, as head of the party in government, stands at a vantage point to know if free press is being raped at a price.
Once-upon-a-time, APM summoned journalists and media gurus to Sanjika Palace for a presidential brief. It was meant to be the beginning of many such briefs in the spirit of using the constitutionally recognised channel for the dissemination of public information.
Thanks to the late Raphael Tenthani, we later learned that the press kit our esteemed colleagues collected from the palace contained a “brown envelop” in which was stashed K50 000 and nothing else. The exposure of that scam marked the abrupt end of presidential briefs.
But the “brown envelop” culture is well-entrenched in Malawi. Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda and now, APM have all used it to sway the sympathy of critical masses to their side, sometimes to no avail.
Brown envelops may just be the reason why, as we are heading towards the 2019 elections, in-fighting is becoming a characteristic of intra-party democracy in opposition MCP and PP while DPP and its appendage, UDF, are very much intact.
Government wants to deal with individual media house owners and managers to tame free press by divide and rule. Fortunately, media houses realise that they are safer dealing with government under the umbrella of Misa Malawi and Media Council of Malawi.
These two umbrella institutions are to the independent media what faith communities are to Public Affairs Committee (PAC). Sad will be the day for free press in Malawi if brown envelops will make leadership of Misa Malawi or MCM go to MBC TV and denounce media houses for executing its watchdog role.
PAC has seen that. After it declared Mutharika and his government a flop, faith community leaders, some of whom had just been guests of APM at Chikoko Bay, bayed for its blood. I’m yet to hear why DPP is right and PAC wrong.