The past week was eventful in many ways but top of the list is President Joyce Banda’s remarks on why she thinks the media played a role in the death of her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika.
The statement created excitement among avid followers of current affairs. And the ensuing debate has been dual-faced. One horde has sounded alarm saying the First Citizen was not supposed to highlight the country’s media in such a manner while another contingent sees nothing wrong in how she presented it.
However, having followed the issue from the day it was reported in Daily Times and the debates and analyses that followed I choose to believe that what the President did does not amount to an offence to the media or oppression of freedom of speech.
For all we know, Joyce Banda administration has stayed on track in ensuring that the media is operating in a conducive environment without hindrances from the Executive arm of government. That is why within her first year in office she repealed draconian laws including Section 46 of the Penal Code which directly affects media freedom.
The statement made at Sanjika is only reflecting how our media operates with selective perception when it comes to issues that really matter to Malawians.
My problem is that we might be failing to see the whole picture in regards to the event which facilitated those remarks.
The President’s meeting with MISA representatives was centred on an agenda of informing her about Table Mountain Declaration and asking her to consider putting her signature on it to signify her government’s commitment.
Going by that arrangement, President Joyce Banda performed her duties quite well as per her diary. As things stand, she has promised the media body that she will look at the document and give it the consideration it deserves.
Take note that remarks following the presentation of the document ranged from President Banda promising the media that she is their trusted friend and ready to work with them always. She commended the media on the role it plays in the fight against corruption which is one of the focus areas in her governance policies.
In the same spirit of openness, the President also thought it was wise to point out some anomalies that if rectified can bring about meaningful and constructive engagement between government and the media.
This is where issues of the media and Bingu’s death come in. A President just like any other human is built up to be affected by information that is deliberately packaged to cause harm to character.
So when our President says that sometimes the media loses focus she is not speaking from a blank. She has read the trends and saw what I see.
On occasions, our media becomes obsessed with the Presidency thereby forgetting to highlight on other equally important issues that affect common people on daily basis.
For instance, some developmental and constructive issues have been pushed to the hind so as to create space for sensational pieces that are only aimed at maximizing sales.
I don’t think the President is asking for too much when she questions why her meeting with US President, Barack Obama, was hidden at some inside page with little prominence. And does the media need to be told how and why TIME Magazine 100 Most Influential Persons is a global story that also carries more weight when one of the persons happens to be one of your own?
Does it make sense to have a newspaper column that always talks ill of the President? Of what use is that kind of writing? Can it be natural that a column can just take the position of hitting out at the President? When criticising the President weight more in favour of being a norm and habit does fairness and objectivity, which are the norms of journalism, retain their credence?
An agreement will have to be sought that some of the writings that appear in the newspapers are self-serving as opposed to serving the interests and nobility of journalism.
Having said that I for one can relate to the President’s disappointment towards some of these tendencies that turn blind to good initiatives only to focus on what they term wrong deeds without offering alternatives if this country is to move forward.
So when she relates Bingu’s death to media conduct she is speaking on behalf of the Presidency no matter who is going to rise to the mantle a hundred years from today.
Infact she is not the first person to say this. The report of the Commission of Inquiry into the death of President Mutharika makes a similar suggestion that the pressure from the media, among other sources, contributed to the stress that may have triggered the heart attack.
Put it another way, where does this notion come from that the media is beyond reproach and, thus, must not be criticised? If the media believes it is entitled to criticise the President and her government, is it not fair and correct that the President and her government are also entitled to criticise the media?
Just what makes the criticism of the media against the President rightful and the criticism of the President against the media muzzling? Should it not follow that those who criticise others, must not close their doors to criticism from others?
Bad stories which are bent on destroying characters can destroy the health of our leaders as they are always under pressure to explain themselves.
Thus coming from a background that Bingu died of cardiac arrest, it should not surprise those in the know why heart disease is not compatible with stress of any kind. Did the media contribute to stress on the former leader through some damaging stories? Absolutely yes.