Free Media for credible polls

Free Media for credible polls

It is an honour to join the media in celebrating World Press Freedom Day.

This year’s commemoration is being celebrated under the theme: Guardians of Democracy: Championing Media Independence for Credible Elections. As we sit today, we have 500 days to go to September 16 2025 when Malawians will go to the polls to elect the State President, members of Parliament and ward councillors.

A voter casts her vote in the 2020 Fresh Presidential Election

We could not have a better theme as we prepare for next year’s general elections.

This theme comes 30 years since we held the first multiparty election in 1994.

If we were to write a book about our electoral democracy, the role of the media would be a bulky chapter. This theme is a call to reflect on the importance of a free, independent, pluralistic and diverse media in building a vibrant and resilient democracy.

It also calls on the media  to reflect on their role in facilitating the conduct of free and fair elections. They should be seen to be providing fair and equal media attention to candidates and their manifestos.

We tout the fact that we continue to grow as a democracy.

As MEC, we recognise the positive role the media has played in these 30 years.  The role of informing, educating and even acting as a watchdog helps greatly in ensuring that our systems are efficient, effective and adhere to the legal frameworks governing elections.

Elections are an important element in the democratic accountability of our elected leaders. They give citizens a platform to exercise their right to choose their leaders at local and national levels and to de-elect those who have not performed to their satisfaction.

Therefore, it is important for the media to ensure that elections are conducted fairly, credibly and accepted by all stakeholders.

The media ensures that the voters are well informed about their right to participate, motivated to participate in various electoral processes and trust the processes, structures and systems put in place to properly run the election.

As such, we need an open, free and independent media to constantly inform the electorate about various electoral processes as well as their rights and responsibilities.

Constant and good coverage of electoral events and activities has helped to build awareness about elections in the past and we expect journalist to step up their efforts as we prepare for 2025 General Elections.

The Malawi Electoral Commission is optimistic that there will be a high turnout for the 2025 polls, even more than in all previous elections.

We are putting in place mobilisation and public awareness strategies and we need the media to join hands with the commission.

We now have new laws that have brought changes in how elections are managed. MEC relies on the media to help educate the public on the changes.

MEC appreciates the fact that the media cannot give out what they do not have.

If the media are not aware of the changes and what is being done in preparations for the general election, we should not expect them to educate the public about it.

This is why the commission prioritises the media in all briefings about the new electoral laws and preparations for the 2025 General Election.

We have conducted a briefing for managers drawn from all media houses, including all community radio stations.

We also held briefings targeting journalists in all the districts where we have held by-elections

So far, the commission has embarked on nationwide awareness campaign meetings in all councils and journalists have been included as participants.

By the end of this exercise, we expect to reach over 300 journalists in the country.

However, the importance of free and unhindered freedom of the press and freedom of expression need no emphasis.

We are lucky in Malawi that freedom of the press and freedom of expression is enshrined in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

We all need to protect and preserve these rights, but do not be naïve of the fact that sometimes, the media has been in the forefront engaging in abuse of the right to freedom of expression.

In the name of freedom of the press, some media practitioners have victimised and injured innocent names.

If the media is in the forefront abusing media freedoms, it will attract others to regulate freedoms.

The talk of media independence cannot end without an observation of the media triangle.

We have media houses that are pro-government, some pro-opposition and others neutral. There is a need to deal away with the political biases that affect news coverage, reporting and slants in programming.

If it is a public broadcaster, it should act as a public broadcaster. If it is a community broadcaster,  it should serve the community, not political interests so too should those private media houses.

Whether public or private, media houses cannot continue to blame the law. The law now demands that we should all be seen to be fair to all competing in the elections.

Next year’s elections offer the media an opportunity to rewrite their CVs and I guess you cannot let this opportunity pass by.

There are also issues of electoral conflicts, dispute resolution and fact-checking.

By nature, elections are prone to conflicts, but we all have the responsibility of managing conflicts.

The media should play an important role of diffusing tensions instead of perpetuating conflicts.

The media should not be a source of misinformation. The media fraternity should embrace fact-checking as a routine practice—as you do spellchecking.

Journalists should ensure that the material they quote and publish has been verified. Everyone has a right to be heard.

We are in politicking season and many issues will be discussed during campaign rallies. Do not be tempted to report as someone said. Journalists should take time to verify the correctness of what was said on the campaign podium.

MEC urges media practitioners to “continue protecting freedom of the press through responsible journalism.

Self-regulation is fundamental in your sector, but do not forget that a slight abuse may attract statutory regulation.n

*This is an abridged version of Commissioner Kasaila’s speech at this year’s World Press Freedom Day Awards Gala held in Mangochi on Saturday.

The post Free Media for credible polls first appeared on Nation Online.

The post Free Media for credible polls appeared first on Nation Online.