Rightly put, the Department of Information under the Ministry of Information and Civic Education was the institution that was supposed to handle publicity and coordinate the local and international media during the whole time that the body of late President Bingu wa Mutharika was lying in state, up to the time that he was interred in his magnificent mausoleum – that oozes affluence.
My observations on how botched up they handled the whole event, especially during the burial, has persuaded me to ask them to better wake up and stop living in medieval age.
To start with, they should have realized that burial of a State President is not small news and more so when the foreign dignitaries that came to pay their last respect included Presidents, Prime ministers and deputy presidents as well as head of institutions.
Granted, the department arranged for Press Cards, but they never explained that within the so called Press Cards there are others that were reserved for media practitioners that were more equal than the others, under the tag of VIP.
This was not known until it was the time to take the body to the grave, and the Police Officers manning entrance to the Mausoleum started sending back some journalists. I was stubborn when they asked me not to enter because the ID that the department gave me had no VIP prefix.
Well, it was a pity to find that the photo journalists for our dailies were kept outside at the expense of the international media.
Come to think of it, how stupid, dull and sorrowful can it get, when you cannot be allowed to the grave of your father and yet allow people that have come to console you during your bereavement to be closer to the very grave.
What it meant was that you would find that international Newspapers are showing the world the final resting place of Mutharika while local newspapers had nothing to show.
I was with James Chimpweya and Amos Gumulira at one time who banked their hopes on a promise from the department of information officials who said four journalists would be allowed inside at a time due to limited space.
While I was able to see through such folly arrangement, either the department officials pretended not to see it or they are so dumb that they could not realize that, you cannot remove a journalist from an ongoing activity because they might miss the big story.
Indeed, hours on ended the journalists waited for their turn to get inside, which were never to be because as I am saying only a half journalist would have allowed to be plucked out of the spot.
What is surprising is that if the guys that are supposed to allow our media to operate freely do not give room to their compatriots, then who will?
Now, mingling with the international media that our information department was trying to please, also show that they also faulted our department big time, with frustrations that came because they were riled by lack of any forward movement.
One Kenyan journalist wondered why the department of information could not have taken the initiative to turn one tent into a fully fledged media centre where journalists would be breaking from the long and winding ceremony to be relaying news to the outside media especially considering that real time news delivery is the in thing.
SABC came prepared because with their own gadgetry they were able to tap satellite signal and send television pictures back to Jo’burg.
The other journalists patronised our telecommunication companies by buying dongles from selling points but ended up crying foul because the internet device just could not provide the facility they claimed they have. This was a shame.
If a proletarian like I could have foresight that there was big business to be tamed at Ndata long before the final day, how come marketers or whatever they call them from Airtel Malawi, TNM, MTL and Access never realized this?
Their connectivity was a sham. I use Blackberry services provided by TNM and it could not even bring the required EDGE as all it gave me was some funny GMS that uselessly never helped matters as I could neither make nor receive any call.
Likewise, my Airtel line was showing full network and yet it could not even allow me to call out or get in-coming calls. In other words, communication was not existent at NDATA during the event.
Unless the Department of Information wakes up and stop living in medieval, then we will have ‘a charade’ of media coordination during the on-coming AU July Summit in Capital Lilongwe.
In the first place, looking at how docile our telecommunication firms are, the Information Department would need to approach them and open their eyes.
I have problems with the way the government underutilizes the Department of Information and I have written on countless occasions lobbying for some change where, the department can even operate its own TV and radio stations.
At the back of my mind I know some accomplished journalists that work in the department and I have high respect for the department thus far.
But I have a problem when the professionals in the department start towing political line which is already blurred with bureaucracy but they choose to exaggerate the existing red-tape approach in the government system by making life of their colleagues even more unbearable.