Malawians on whose taxes, employees at the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) are paid have expressed how appalled, livid and enraged they are by the use of distasteful language in a story on the country's Vice President Saulos Chilima, in the 7pm Chichewa news bulletin.
Even those who have ever worked at state broadcaster and some of those who are still there are in disbelief and have been left dumbfounded by the unprecedented events that unfolded.
On Monday evening, those who watched the Corporation's broadcasts were shocked to see a screen grab of vulgar comments attacking Chilima's person and not his policies. A new low for the Corporation which has grown overly skewed towards the party in power.
A lot has been said already in the few hours since it was displayed. In fact social media has ensured that the millions who did not watch the story have gotten wind of it as the picture has been shared and re-shared.
MBC has since an issued apology which is my main focus. In it, the Corporation states that the use of a vulgar picture was an oversight on the part of those editing the news. It also claims that the picture was errroneously used and that the view expressed in it are not those of MBC.
I beg to disagree. First of all the reporter who did the story holds a senior position within the Corporation and my view is that he knew what he was doing or had been instructed to do and did not back off. So there was no oversight, rather a mere miscalculation of the impact of their actions.
The screen grab did not 'walk' in the story on its own. It was a result of careful selection, that is what news processes are about, selection! This word, sentence, paragraph or picture goes in and that one does not. So, someone took the screenshot and submitted it for inclusion in the story. In fact, with technology changing, reporters are more able to give a roughly edited version of their story to the video editor for polishing.
Again, before a story is aired, it generally has to be checked by producers who will raise a red flag or flash out a green one and give a go ahead for a its publication in consultation with their supervisors. But because the one doing the story holds a senior position, the junior producers might have said storyyi apanga ndi abwana, tiyeni tingozisiya chonchi (the one who did the story is our boss so we can not question him). The fact that senior was not there does not exonorate them from their responsibility.
Again, you can only issue a disclaimer for an opinion piece. But the story on the Vice President was a hard news story which is ideally supposed to be void of opinions. So, the Corporation can not distance itself from it, just because someone is trying to run away from facing the music.
Additionally, stories ideas are generally discussed in editorial and 'other meetings' unless they are breaking news. This buttresses my idea that the story was premeditated and MBC management should not try and wash their hands off it and blame it on the those editing, they are equally to blame.
One would have expected that with the official campaign period on, MBC could have at least opened up its airwaves to inform voters of the policies and ideologies of each contestant and not on their person!
It is also surprising how up to now the Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) which usually rushes to pounce on smaller 'private' radio stations has not yet acted. Where is the Minister of Information and even the President in all this national shame!
It is my sincere hope that the heads that roll will not be the usually scapegoated juniors, let the real culprits behind extreme rot we see at the Corporation go!