Montfort Media News

Post Covid-19: Analyzing the state of the media in Malawi

By Joseph Kayira

From low advertising revenue to lay-offs, and from getting half pay to working at home, the Covid-19 pandemic has redefined the role of journalists and technical staff in the media industry – compelling the fourth estate to find new ways of survival in Malawi and beyond.

In a country where bad politics and restrictive laws have been responsible for the shutdown of some media houses, survival of players in this key industry remains a challenge, especially with the advent of the global pandemic and a trail of devastation it has left behind. 

At the height of Covid-19, during the first and the second waves, media watchdogs, human rights activists and media owners engaged government to consider bailing out local media houses with special survival financial packages. But a lack of commitment from government and other stakeholders to support the media during and post pandemic, now threatens the future and role of the media, a key stakeholder in democratic governance. 

MFC chair Gracian Tukula addressing the participants

Many local media houses need a quick financial boost. Until now, their financial streams remain unstable and there is no telling when advertisers will start flowing in again. What journalists shared at the October 28, 2022 ‘Media Stakeholders Meeting on the State of the Media Post-Covid’ in Lilongwe organized by the Media Freedom Committee in collaboration with World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) was a true reflection of how journalists are struggling to put body and soul together – and at the same time try to find immediate solutions to problems that have been created by Covid-19.

One journalist said: “We are getting half pay but cannot question management as to when it would honour our balances. Doing so would be jeopardizing your future at the media house. Already, several jobs are on line.”

Several journalists colloborated this during the MFC Lilongwe plenary saying media houses were struggling to pay a decent allowance or salary as the sector experienced economic marginalization – following a decision by advertisers and partners to cut down budgets on advertising and marketing. Advertising remains the backbone and lifeline of many media houses.

Chairperson of the Malawi Chapter of the MFC, Gracian Tukula says a quick assessment of the media post the Covid-19 pandemic shows that journalists just like other professionals and businesses continue to suffer from the effects of the global pandemic and need to move with speed to redeem itself by establishing networks, partnerships and collaborations.

“Malawi Chapter of the MFC saw the need for assessment of the media post the Covid-19 pandemic. Our resolve is to work with different media organisations on how we can improve the situation for the better. Despite the pandemic, journalists must continue to serve the masses. Despite the challenges journalists face due to the pandemic, they must continue to report professionally and remain relevant by giving their audiences reliable information,” Tukula says.

He adds that MFC, which was launched on October 14 last year, has already embarked on a journey that would promote the Committee’s goals and objectives, which include “documentation and advocacy of media freedom and of maintaining a local focus with the tools of a global network.”

“Currently we have eight chapters in Africa, and 20 around the globe, which are doing a commendable job. We want all the issues hindering the work of journalists to be addressed with the help of the local chapter of MFC. The Covid-19 pandemic aftermaths need to be addressed and help journalists soldier on in this important calling,” Tukula says.

Winnie Botha facilitating at the workshop

Tukula explains that there are many areas that MFC can engage the media and other professional media organisation “to ensure that journalists report professionally in all sectors of the economy such as climate change, human rights, health, the courts, parliament and many other key areas.”

While hailing efforts of the local media throughout the pandemic to report effectively, he acknowledges how tough it has been for many, owing to new laws which were imposed. It meant fighting misinformation and disinformation – at the same time making sure that you do not lose the shrinking base of your audience, including advertisers. 

While hailing efforts of the local media throughout the pandemic to report effectively, he acknowledges how tough it has been for many, owing to new laws which were imposed. It meant fighting misinformation and disinformation – at the same time making sure that you do not lose the shrinking base of your audience, including advertisers. 

MFC co-chairperson, Habiba Osman says it is true that the media has gone through a difficult patch. She adds that the pandemic should help the media to think of new ways of survival such as “coming up with concept papers and proposals on resource mobilization.”

Co-chair Habiba Osman (Second from right) making a contribution

“It is encouraging to see journalists speak out their minds on a number of important issues affecting their work. We should continue discussions on these issues. Our immediate promise is that we want to build capacity of our members. In our meeting with journalists, critical issues such as mental health and wellness and the welfare of journalists came up. We are willing to ensure that journalists work under favourable conditions, both in and outside their media houses,” Osman says.

With the overarching objective of confronting challenges to media freedom that occur both internally within the media itself – such as professional practice issues, awareness of rights and responsibilities, self-censorship – as well as external environmental factors [legislation, safety and censorship], WAN-IFRA intends to empower media professionals to address what they themselves consider the greatest threats to press freedom.

‘Systematic violation of media freedoms’ 

In the same vein in September this year MISA Malawi, a professional media watchdog that strives in creating an environment of media freedom and freedom of expression that promotes independence, pluralism and diversity of views and opinions, media sustainability, competency and professionalism – complained to Parliament that Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) “revocation of licences is too drastic and can be construed as a systematic violation of freedom of expression in the country.” 

Some of the radio and television stations MACRA has revoked their licences include: Joy Radio and Tv, Ufulu Radio and Television, Galaxy Radio, Rainbow Television, Angaliba Television and Radio and Sapitwa FM. MISA Malawi said over 250 full-time and part-time media practitioners and support staff have lost jobs at the stations whose licences have been revoked. In total, licences for 23 radio stations and six television stations may be revoked by the end of 2022.

MISA Malawi chairperson, Teresa Ndanga told a Parliamentary Committee that, “We acknowledged that the broadcasters, as Malawians in other businesses, have an obligation to pay the licence and other business fees. We, however, implored that instead of shutting down stations there is a need for MACRA to engage the stations for a win-win agreement. 

Participants and officials to the media workshop pose for a group photo

“As an example, MISA Malawi cited the license fees in other sectors such as in the tourism sector where the biggest hotels pay about MK500,000 and the same fees apply for the biggest private hospitals in the medical sector. In the broadcasting sector, the fees are pegged in US dollars and are ten times higher than the cited sectors at US$5000,” she said.

Ndanga highlighted that the general economic crisis the country is experiencing has not spared the media sector as advertising, the main source of revenue for most media businesses, is dwindling.

A cross section of the participants to the media workshop

Perhaps time is now for the media and its stakeholders to put it to those in power that, “media business is more than profit-oriented as it facilitates the constitutionally enshrined rights and freedoms such as freedom of expression (section 35), press freedom (section 36), and access to information (section 37).” 

Equally relieving is the formation and launching of the MFC in Malawi, offering a ray of hope to journalists and media houses – and that despite the economic hardships – there is still a future for professional and good journalism in the ‘Warm Hear of Africa’.