Malawi media and the allowance conundrum


In an ideal world the media companies are supposed to pay for everything that will go towards investing in a story.

When these organizations bring invitation letters or make calls inviting the media to their events, all the gatekeepers have is to consider whether or not they feel obliged to publish the story. This assessment is informed by interrogating the invitation and see if the end result is making business sense as an entertainment or educative/ informative piece. The other aspect taken into consideration is whether the piece falls within the media company’s corporate social responsibility. Once the gatekeepers weigh all the pros and cons they can decide not to invest in the story or not. This is the ideal situation.

Rarely would you find a media organisation declining to carry out a particular assignment based on the invitation and this is what actually happens in the real world.

The real scenario however is where the media organization does not have a budget to carter for lunch/transport/incidental/communication allowance for their journalist for a particular story, as investment in a story for our media bodies is rarely a priority. Meanwhile they have a newspaper to fill with stories, bottomless airspace to feed with pictures and audio as well as online void to be filled with latest stories and pix. For a resource constrained media organisation, therefore they compromise ideal arrangement as earlier examined.

Some NGOs think construction of a pit latrine requires media coverage, and this is where the problem starts to emanate. Donors of such project will need proof that the money they gave the NGOs has been used for the intended purpose. Politicians will also want to show their superiors that they are working and therefore abuse the space especially in the public media. Politicians will slaughter a goat for their constituents on the Christmas day and want coverage where they will thank His Excellency the State President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika for the goat meat; they want this covered. We also have organisations like CEDEP and IPAS for example which are ‘taboo mongers’. They are trying to inculcate in the audience, but through the media, that safe abortion and homosexuality is okay.

When all these NGOs/Politicians and of course other so called newsmakers consider the constraints experienced by the media when it comes investing into gathering of material then they start competing for the media attention; not because they want to help the media get stories but because they have different motives. No wonder, while other will dangle ‘a mere’ K5000 for attending a press conference others will pay triple as much or 500 percent more.

Now when you consider all these factors which are just a tip of the iceberg, and having reservations about giving the media allowances for doing their job and how the media discharge it’s work is not only a mockery to the profession but it far much gives the media a window of what different sectors of the public view it from. It’s like there is a ‘mercenary approach’ as we discharge our duties across the mediascape.

The question remains, when all is said and done, do we live or operate for allowances or we indeed operate in penury and only survive because of the handouts. Most media practitioners hate to be told of their love for allowances. Believe you me most of us cannot survive the socio-economic demands considering the take home from the monthly salary which does not even come close to the breadbasket assessment by the Centre for Social Concern …

When all these issues are considered, then talking about giving allowances to the media becomes complicated matter.

At the end of it all one cannot blame the media for complying when there are institutions out there who are desperately dangling these so called allowances for the media practitioners to take, not because they are needy but because the benefactor know they cannot achieve their goal if money is not going to exchange hands, after all they already budgeted for such, according to the budget proposal they submitted to the donors; after all what the media gets is just one tenth of their entitlement if you go by what the financial proposal of the project suggests…

In conclusion perhaps only the media can guard against such opportunists by investing more in story productions and telling off those that are bent at abusing the media to achieve their end to miserably fail to do so. The solemnity that ought to be the benchmark of the profession, the dignity and honour as well as the veneration that it ought to exude when journalists are discharging their media duty needs to be protected.

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