By Gregory Gondwe.
Malawi’s media journey must have started the day the first Nyasaland Times was published and slowly and surely dragged its way into the new Malawi. At least a state of fixity was established and a media journey had began.
When Malawi adopted a one party state, it had to design a kind of media that would advance the single party ideologies that would also be a mundane voice that would only report the known.
Part of making sure that this was achieved was not to have any media related subject (like journalism or mass communication) taught in the University of Malawi. Establishment of any serious private school was inconceivable and those that had a chance to have ago at the subject did so outside the country and upon completion were to practice it elsewhere or worked in different jobs.
Journalists like the late Mkwapatira Mhango decided to practice in Zambia. Al Ausman went to Botswana where he established one of most successful newspaper, The Botswana Guardian. He was later to be joined in Botswana by the late Horace Somanje.
Those that served at the existing media institutions were mostly graduates in other academic spheres whom nature had endowed the art to articulate on issues and managed to produce chewy news items.
When the country adopted multiparty democracy the media was supposed to take a different role in order to help in the democratisation process and this is the time that the professional deficiency of the country’s media players was exposed.
People calling themselves journalists crazed with the democratic euphoria trying the newly acquired freedom of the press, defamed, slandered, plagiarised and etched a production devoid of quality, which evidently arrayed the profession’s lethargy since the profession was rearing from a long de-horned status.
This write-up seek to pay tribute to different drivers who have managed to keep the wheels of our media running and though not so detailed above, our media journey started with big jerks and there was a big danger for its survival owing to the nature within which it was procreated by the ‘omnipotent’ democratic principles.
The idea of the media practitioners that sprouted during the multiparty transitional period coveted for a vibrant media industry but the take-off always reminds me of a Greek Mythology where Deianira a Greek myth sister of Meleager, wife to Hercules unintentionally killed her husband by dipping his tunic in the poisonous blood of the Centaur Nessus, thinking it to be a love charm.
The danger laid in the adopted trend where any garbage would start calling itself a newspaper and embark on a political propaganda quarry of denigrating political opponents, planned and executed by paid school leavers calling themselves journalists at the behest of politicians whose identities would be deliberately hidden.
But Aleke Banda a man whose name must never disappear from the list of our media pioneers- take to mind, he was first Editor for Malawi News- came in the scene and established The Nation Newspaper without which the poisonous influence people thought was journalism would have spread and nourished the mind of the already deprived masses.
Al Ausman came to the scene with The Financial Post long before the referendum. It was disappointing though that the paper never survived, as did the paper he left in Botswana, to set precedence that would have ignited the engine of the democratic media vehicle for a multiparty media journey.
At that time, late Dr Mapopa Chipeta and Frank Mayinga Mkandawire were publishing The Malawi Democrat in Zambia and together with its influential columnist Anderson Fumulani, conveniently spread the positive energies towards the growth of our media industry.
In later days it would become the champion of the street shortened as The Democrat and boast an editorial chemistry that worked by the rules of diligence and bench mark of perfection. The able hands of Charles Simango, Hardy Nyirenda, and ofcourse the all time great, Dingi Chirwa seemed to have set the primacy of what the local press was to follow.
Rob Jamieson’s The Chronicles was already on as it is still persisting, but not before Willie Zingani’s The New Express, Kalonga Stambuli’s The Monitor, Lucious Chikuni’s The Enquirer, Grey Mang’anda and Edward Chitsulo’s The Michiru Sun and Janet Karim’s The Independent.
Then there was Lance Ngulube managing The Star. Akwete Ligongo Sande and Dean Balakasi The Tribute and Chimwemwe Mputahelo The Malawian. Dr Denis Nkhwazi’s The New Voice was a northern voice that would later be accompanied by The Freedom Newspaper before Mandeba Lungu’s The Kommando Newspaper.
Political parties never left the field but thought of championing their ideologies by establishing their Newspapers, The UDF News and Aford’s The New Voice. Despite being overshadowed by political prejudices, Dingi at New Voice was something and it must be said here, Elson Kasinja and his UDF team are virtuosic writers that have helped steer the media vehicle too.
In later years Brown Mpinganjira will come on the scene with The Mirror, Sande will reappear with Malawi Today which will have the diminutive Frank Phiri. Dr Jerry Jana with Business Telegraph, Peter Chinthuli with Your Market and Jolly Osaweta Kalelo with Business Mail, Lilongwe journalists will group to publish The Statesman, before the emergence of Martines Naminga’s The Dispatch. The second deputy speaker John Vincent Chingola had also what he called The Binoculars.
Many publications for one reason or the other came and went. Having re-drafted the role of the media in a democratic set-up, survival was difficult and if other journalist managed to persist then it is necessary that they be mentioned. If the media history is to be retold it must include heroes and heroines who must remain chalked in the annals.
Right from the minute the country entered her second republic it must be said without fear or favour that The Nation Publications Limited (NPL) has more than excelled. Its success story would ofcourse include Hon Ken Lipenga who, if my memory serves me correctly, was its first Editor-in-Chief.
A lot of growth at The Nation has taken place during the reign of Alfred Mtonga and at the time of his appointment his Editor was the current Blantyre Newspaper Limited (BNL) General Manager Jika Nkolokosa and it still flourished under him and two Editors in Edward Chisambo and Steve Nhlane who have lately been joined by Edward Chitsulo.
It is never known whose name should be chanted the most in songs of praise for the publication’s success story: Mtonga or the big head at the helm Mrs Mbumba Achutan?
A lot started and blundered about along the way as the country charged off without any drafted road map which only meant the drivers would easily lead the vehicle into dangerous terrain and while some came back others never saw the light of the day again. But NPL did not only persevere but it kept growing bigger and bigger.
This has always been a plus to the local media growth. The other players were and are our locally bred international stringers; Angels Mtukulo, Felix Mponda, Raphael Tenthani, Aubrey Sumbuleta, Hobbs Gama and some using pseudo names for one reason or the other.
The collective task also involved training of journalists to acquire the much needed quality. Seeing how the professional was badly in need of well trained practitioners Tito Banda, established Pen-point School of Journalism and Gresha Mwandira followed with Grefa Communications.
Then Malawi institute of Journalism (MIJ) was established before The University of Malawi introduced a journalism course.
We can not, therefore, dispute the fact that the quality of news, though still developing, is of high quality.
Nkolokosa has necessitated the launch of the country’s first Sunday Newspaper and this has only fortified BNL’s pioneer role.
The numerous training seems to have finally taken the media vehicle close to the desired destination. Youthful inclusion in the Fredrick Ndala-led-editorial of the Malawi News of Emmanuel Luciano, Limbani Nsapato and Mc Donald Bamusi to the already top notch team, completely spruced up the old face of the old guy not to mention change of a groomed face of its sister paper the Daily Times.
Just to let the point sink home, the trend is on the right track to an improved media industry, names of three young journalists whose feature writing finesse have prompted comments from friends abroad, should not be taken for granted by both the media fraternity and the readership at large.
NPL and BNL must encourage the works of the said three; Mzati Nkolokosa, Idrissa Ali Nassah and Limbani Davis Nsapato.
The electronic media’s bestowal to the industry can never be over emphasised. The name of Ausman and the Capital Radio need some mentioning. Rodrick Mulonya has also done a commendable job at TVM than his predecessor, despite every reason that has put him in trouble with the law.
John Saini’s Pride Magazine has set standards of what the country need. Fr P. Gamba, Brother Jos Kuppens, Luigi Gritti, and many more names worthy mentioning have made the country’s media glimmer with the introduction of The Lamp and Together Magazines into circulation.
Prof. Steve Chimombo’s, Mike Kamwendo’s the defunct WASI and Quest respectively, Moses Dossi and Late George Kaiya’s Free-Kick and struggling but lingering Exclusive Magazines by Isaac Masingati were and are amongst the rank and file of media players revving hard on gas pedal to propel the media vehicle forward.
Media practitioners might not appear anywhere in the Hall of fame but the contribution to our present political status should give us clout enough to blow our own horn.
Driving the vehicle to where it is now has not been easy. Those who first started engaging the gears might have had a torrid time since the apparatus inside the machine was utterly pretentious and through trial and error the vehicle coughed the first exhaust of smoke.
The drivers have acquired enough knowledge on when and how to keep the vehicle gliding but there still is no roadmap to chart the way forward. While names of those that have driven, it in the past must never leave our lips in order to inspire those just jumping in, much more than just mere mention must be done. A little bit of reconnaissance on how apt the media can move on would best be the convenient way to get to the Holy Grail. This must be done after organising some medals.
By Gregory Gondwe.