We failed to accompany our president, Professor Apita Mutharika to Zambia for the Comesa Heads of State meeting there. And we blame Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa V for it.
You see, until recently we used to freely travel between Malawi and Zambia through the Mqocha border. It is something we have done since time immemorial. Our ancestors used Bisani trucks to cross the border to trade in Zambia and beyond. Zambians used to do likewise unperturbed. Passports and identify cards were not necessary. Until last week, we believed that the borders between our African countries were artificial and an arbitrary colonial imposition.
But, after that regal ‘incitement’, we found ourselves on the wrong side of the law because our venerable Most Paramount Native Authority Mandela’s travel documents had expired and the Mqocha border authorities could not allow him to pass.
Our uMunthu life-philosophy is such that when one of us is blocked from travel, all of us are. So, we abandoned the road trip to Lusaka, Zambia, where the government has just banned the parading of honorary doctorate degrees and professorships unless they are accompanied by the phrase ‘honoris causa’ (yaulemu).
So, we drove back to Jenda and booked ourselves warm accommodation. We started reading and whatsapping. Then we tumbled on research that describes Malawian journalists.
Two studies conducted between 2010 and 2015 shed light on the ideal Malawian journalist. The first study conducted by the Journalists Union of Malawi (Juma) in 2010 concludes that Malawian journalists are generally young males although female faces are likely to don and dominate TV presentations.
In most cases, the study reveals, behind every story on TV, radio, online news sites and newspapers there is a man or a string of men: chief reporters, sub editors, editors, controllers, station managers, and chief executive officers. Professional journalism, as opposed to social media, all over the world is highly structured with an established pecking order. Every journalist knows to whom his or her story must go before it can be published.
Also, the Juma study notes that most journalists interviewed reported to be lowly remunerated, insecure in their jobs because they had not signed any employment contracts, and grossly overworked. However, low remuneration and overworking are a worldwide trend.
The second study by the World of Journalism also concludes that Malawian journalists are generally young females but data for other countries shows that this phenomenon, too, is not unique to Malawi. Out of the eight African countries (Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan and Tanzania) that participated in the study, only in South African are media dominated by women (62.1 percent).
In all these countries, the mean age of the journalist ranges from 27 years in Tanzania, through 31.9 years in Malawi and 39.9 years in South Africa. Sweden has the oldest journalists in the world with a mean age of 51.3 years.
Interestingly, it is mostly in Europe’s former Soviet States (Latvia, Romania, Russia, Moldova and Croatia) that journalism is dominated by women. In the gender-equality-noise-making UK (and USA and Canada), journalism is still dominated by men.
The Worlds of Journalism study also indicates that Malawian journalists claim to be as educated as their compatriots in the other African countries studied. Except for Sierra Leone, over 80 percent journalists in the African countries studied claim to hold a college diploma or degree (including Master and PhD) in journalism or communication studies. In Malawi, 94.7 percent of the respondents claim to hold such a diploma or degree.
As for their roles, over 70 percent Malawian journalists see their mission as helping Malawians to make informed decisions; megaphoning the voice of the voiceless; monitoring and scrutinising political leadership, political parties, and businesses; advocating for social change; supporting national development; motivating popular political participation; and providing information, education and entertainment, but not supporting partisan politics.
The study further notes that 96 percent Malawian journalists perceive themselves as professionals who strictly observe normative journalism ethics of balance, timeliness, objectivity, fairness, relevance and thoroughness. Over 90 percent said they would not accept money from any source to influence their mind; about 92 percent claim they would not alter or fabricate quotes from sources; and 93 percent would never pay for confidential information.
Is this the Malawian journalist you know?