The Truth Under Siege: The State of Journalism Ethics in Malawi

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Gregory Gondwe Arrested

As the media landscape in Malawi continues to evolve, journalists face increasing pressure to compromise on ethics. What does this mean for the future of journalism in the country?

In Malawi, where a free press is enshrined in the constitution, journalism ethics are under threat. With the rise of fake news, political interference, and commercial pressures, journalists face challenges in upholding the principles of truthful and responsible reporting. Additionally, social media seems to be detrimental to the reporting of facts and objectivity.

In 2023, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi registered cases of arbitrary arrests, harassment, and assaults of journalists while they were doing their jobs, with eight cases in which over ten journalists were attacked. MISA Malawi is a membership-based advocacy organization that defends and promotes media freedom, freedom of expression, and access to information in Malawi. This year alone, journalists such as Gregory Gondwe and Macmillan Mhone have been arrested for exposing fraud and corruption.

Golden Matonga, the chairperson of MISA Malawi, says the organization aims to promote media self-regulation to prevent abuse of power by the press and enhance the quality of journalism education to ensure journalists are ethical, critical thinkers, and professionals. “MISA Malawi has led a civil society coalition that advocated for the Access to Information Act, allowing journalism to thrive and making democracy meaningful so that citizens, voters, and taxpayers have access to information necessary for crucial decisions,” Matonga adds.

However, access to information is a journalism principle that ensures both journalists and the public can obtain information from the government and public officials. Matonga further emphasizes that access to information is crucial for a democratic nation and allows citizens to hold leaders accountable and make meaningful proposals. He also states that their role is to ensure the law is applied, duty bearers adhere to it, and citizens, particularly journalists and civil society, know how to use it. This is why they provide training and civic education to increase awareness.

Malawian journalists are increasingly facing pressure from various interests, influencing their reporting. “We journalists are threatened by legal action to drop investigations on stories,” says Alinafe Jimmy Mkwezalamba, a journalist. He continues to say some organizations offer incentives to influence stories in their favor, which affects objectivity and integrity. Despite ethics being compromised by manipulation and incentives, the rise of social media, with Facebook and Twitter leading, has created new challenges. Fake news and misinformation spread rapidly, affecting accuracy.

“While social media has made it easier to gather information and connect with sources, it has also created unnecessary competition with discrediting false and fake news, as everyone with a smartphone considers themselves a reporter, spreading unverified information,” says Mkwezalamba. He continues to say that adapting to this requires hard work to verify facts, conduct research, and ensure accuracy, which has been challenging as misinformation may cause damage.

The role of social media has led to debates, with some arguing it has boosted the reporting of information while others believe it has disrupted professional ethics. This raises the question of whether social media platforms are significant.

In Malawi, there has been a change in how journalists reach their audiences, with traditional newspapers declining. They have built online platforms where they create new paths of storytelling, sourcing, and connection. Despite these challenges, social media platforms enable journalists to engage with sources and create a dialogue with their audiences, providing a backup for obtaining information. Social media also acts as a secondary platform where media houses post their stories for immediate reporting.

The state of journalism ethics in Malawi is a concern for professionalism. As the media landscape continues to change, it is important that journalists, media organizations, and civil society groups work together to uphold ethical standards and promote responsible reporting. Only then can the media fulfill its role as a watchdog and a voice for the voiceless. The future of journalism in Malawi depends on it.

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