Since the Windhoek Declaration on Press Freedom Principles was adopted on May 3 1991 and proclaimed in 1993 by the United Nations as World Press Freedom Day, May 3 has been a unique day internationally.
This is the day when journalists are joined by the public to debate, celebrate, march, wine, dine and award themselves prizes for their performance in the year gone by.
Since then, too, press freedom monitoring organisations have mushroomed and press freedom is internationally taken as a serious measure of good governance. Annually, on May 3, these organisations release their findings on press freedom violations. They name, rank and shame the big violators.
Fortunately, Malawi has for years not featured in the gross violator press freedom violators category. If Malawian politicians had passed into law the now 20-year-old Access to Information (ATI) Bill, Malawi would have been a world press freedom star.
In 2010, Journalists Union of Malawi (Juma), a journalists’ labour rights organisation, conducted a survey to examine conditions of service of journalists. That study, later published in the Journal of Development and Communication Studies (http://www.ajol.info/index.php/jdcs/article/view/112334), found that Malawi’s journalists were mostly male, young, hardworking, but grossly undepaid, if examined against the Centre for Social Concern’s monthly cost of living estimates, mostly undereducated (50 percent of the respondents had Malawi School Certificate of Education [MSCE]) for a profession that requires logical argumentation and trends analysis.
However, tentative data from the yet-to-published Worlds of Journalism Study (WJS), headquartered in the Department of Communication Studies and Media Research at the LMU Munich, in Germany, but conducted in over 60 countries, including Malawi, between 2014 and 2015 to compare journalism practices and influences in different cultures, indicates that educationally, the profile of the Malawian journalist has improved dramatically.
Although the WJS data confirm the Juma study findings that Malawi’s journalism landscape is dominated by young and male journalists, the number of journalists claiming to have a college journalism diploma/bachelor’s and postgraduate degree soared from 48 percent and two percent in 2010 to 59 percent and 36 percent in 2015 respectively.
This educational explosion among journalists could explain the improved investigative skills that helped to uncover Cashgate—the gross abuse of public money between 2006 and 2013; the analytical newspaper columns; the professionally produced weekly features on Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) radio and in-depth Nation Investigates series, to mention only these.
However, this does not mean that all has been rosy.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) media monitoring reveals there have been politically-motivated harassments of journalists over the years.
Also, journalists still fail to set their own agendas.
Tractorgate is not being pursued because politicians have not made it their agenda.
Men’s rights are not an issue because they are not on the politicians’ agenda. The national budget process is a multi-stage cycle, but despite 20 years of budget reporting training, journalists still concentrate on covering the (Parliamentary) budget enactment process only. Budget funding and implementation are rarely covered.
The Eurocentric training journalists receive may be partly to blame. But, hey, it is World Press Freedom Day (WPF)! Let’s wine away our tribulations as we cogitate on our failures.