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Journalists can do better in heated political campaign

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The battle is on, the political fire is raging, in some instances fiercely, the fight for political elective office is finally here. Caught in the middle of all this political mess are journalists, who people look up to for independent facts and analysis of issues.

This is why when Bwaila Press Club of Lilongwe invited me to present a paper on the ‘Role of a Reporter As a Foot Soldier: Sieving Issues from Name-calling Campaign,’ to a group of distinguished respected media practitioners, I thought that was the right topic for the right political time.

This reminded me of what my broadcasting journalism mentor, Alaudin Osman, used to remind me at Capital Radio in the run-up to the 2004 general elections, an election which propelled president Bingu wa Mutharika to power, the presidency.

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Mr Osman always likened the political battles during campaign to the fight of elephants down the valley. He always advised me to keep a distance from such fights, lest I be knocked down by the fighting elephant bulls.

In such circumstances, he advised me to stand on top of a mountain with a clear view of the battle and report objectively. His advice was incredible. He thought that if I were closer to the battle, the dust arisen from the battleground could make me fail to see clearly how the battle was raging in the battle field.

This is the time journalists are used, then misused and dumped after the election.

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Only clever journalists, who do not go closer to the raging political battles, thrive and make names for themselves as professionals for the simple reason that they have been loyal foot soldiers who managed to sieve issues from name-calling campaign.

After all, name-calling campaign has kicked off; remember Charles Mchacha, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) governor for the South, calling Chilima Movement official Patricia ‘Akweni’ Kaliati an idiot.

What about the DPP secretary general Grezeldar Jeffrey making serious allegations against former first lady Callista Mutharika, to the effect that she killed her husband, Bingu.

The autopsy report on the death of Bingu is there. It indicates that he died of cardiac arrest. As such, it was surprising that the media went frenzy, crazy and the media loved it. The media thought this was newsworthy but, in fact, the media missed the whole campaign news.

To me, the campaign issue is not the name-calling at all. I am writing all this in this column because I want our politicians to know that Malawi can go to an election without name-calling. Our politicians, from both sides of the political divide, the ruling and the opposition, can practise a clean campaign.

Political parties have real issues to tell the people and the media have an uphill task to dig up real issues from political parties and squeeze out real issues from political parties.

I am sure people would be interested in knowing why the DPP-led government is not rolling out the famous Bingu is colourful dream of Nsanje World Inland Port when this project is in the DPP manifesto.

I am told the place is now a wedding ground for couples. I am told this is a breeding place for some animals.

I am very sure that this project will be back in the DPP manifesto this year or next year when the elections are just around the corner and DPP officials might not even have an answer as to why they failed to roll the project out for the past five years, unfortunately.

DPP promised, in its manifesto, to trim the powers of the president by promising, among other things, that the president would not be appointing the director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

This has not happened. Instead, President Peter Mutharika arrogantly said he could not do that for whatever reasons he had.

Then the Access to Information law is not operationalised. The minister of Information Nicholas Dausi has been elusive on the matter and looks like the media has not been pressing him to say why the government has grown cold feet on the matter.

There is also the issue of the Political Parties Act. Government officials are not saying anything sensible on this important matter.

Then we have the main opposition, Malawi Congress Party (MCP). I wonder what they will do to deal with rampant tribalism, cronyism, favouritism, nepotism and regionalism in government.

Malawians do not want this malaise to crop up when DPP is kicked out of government in the event it loses the 2019 polls.

I am not predicting that DPP will lose the elections. What I can say is that the poll research by the Economist Intelligence Unit that Mutharika will win the 2019 elections is questionable.

These can be State-paid mercenaries.

Malawians want to hear, supposingly, of real issues.

The media, for sure, has the power to set the agenda. The media can sway the campaign agenda from personal attacks, defamation and character assassination to issue-based campaign tackling the economy, poverty and joblessness.

I am at pains, however, to make a decision on whether Callista Mutharika engaged in name-calling campaign when she said, a few weeks ago, that Mutharika is too old to continue ruling the country and that he is incompetent as head of State.

I am at pains to make a decision on the issue for the simple reason that the president is 79 years old, subject to constructive scrutiny and that Callista has a right to her opinion.

I was at Malawi News in 1994 when several publications had no kind words for Dr Kamuzu Banda, the father and founder of the nation, but he endured the political mudslinging and soldiered on during the whole bruising campaign and conceded defeat even before the voting was over.

Some experts are predicting violent 2019 elections but the media can help to make it a violent-free campaign only if my colleagues at State-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation realise that they are journalists and not DPP politicians; that there is life after an election. They must understand that a reporter is a foot soldier who must specialise in sieving issues from name-calling campaign!

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