WHY DEVELOPMENT JOURNALISM IS ON THE DECLINE IN THE MULTIPARTY ERA?
By Baldwin Chiyamwaka, Executive Director, Media Council of Malawi
Malawi has experienced a general decline in the coverage of development news. Although no study has been conducted to establish the extent of the problem and its causes media practitioners, media publics (readers, viewers and sources of news) and other stakeholders in several media fora I have been, do accept that coverage of development news is on the decline. My personal historical perspective and timeline would mark the beginning of the decline since the dawn of multiparty democracy in 1994. Political news highly dominates media coverage than economic and development news. Some efforts to improve this situation have been taken but have not yielded desired results.
Some sections of the public, the civil society, donor community and government ministries have on several occasions at different fora expressed dissatisfaction in the way the media in Malawi cover development and economic issues. The media has been accused of concentrating on political news, which dominates front-page headlines in most newspapers and top stories on radios and television. This has often been attributed to inadequate training or even lack of training in the relevant disciplines among journalists.
The media has not denied these accusations and claims. They have accepted them but with reasons. They admit political news truly do dominate news coverage both in the print and electronic media. They equally observe that lack of training contributes to inadequate and dissatisfactory coverage of development and economic issues. But more interestingly they claim that political stories sustain high newspaper circulation and large listenership. This they strongly argue, in spite of lack of proper empirical evidence, keeps the newspapers in business. Without which low circulation would be a result, audience sizes would shrink, advertisers pull out and eventually for lack of profit newspapers would fold up and radio stations close down.
However, institutions and organisations in the development and economic industries still believe that news coverage of development issues are crucial to the development of Malawi particularly as a developing country and should therefore be given priority. In other words they believe that these issues are equally newsworthy and fairly rate highly on the continuum of news values. In some cases, media stakeholders including government have even called for the priotising of development issues in news coverage.