Malawian media expert Chirwa-Ndanga: "Will media ever be as vibrant as before the pandemic?" | DW AKADEMIE | DW | 14.06.2021
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Malawian media expert Chirwa-Ndanga: "Will media ever be as vibrant as before the pandemic?"

COVID-19 has hit the global media sector hard. Teresa Chirwa-Ndanga, Chairperson of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Malawi, describes the importance of local media and challenges they face.

DW Akadmie: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted local media outlets and journalists in southern Africa?

Teresa Chirwa-Ndanga: Quality journalism trainings, especially the ones conducted on location, are extremely important for improving the region's media sector. But because of the pandemic, we weren't able to hold them on site, so we had to find an alternative and decided to take them online. Another major impact is that some media outlets have had to shut down. Others have had to scale down their programming, and many have had to cut salaries. 

Are local media outlets the only ones facing these problems?

No, big media companies are facing them as well, even though they often have better funding. Some employees there had to accept pay cuts and some are still working for lower wages. Advertising has also changed. Media outlets have had to find new ways to advertise so that money still comes in. Many traditional media now have gone online and have digital platforms.   

What are the biggest fears that local journalists currently have?

Their number one fear, of course, is not being able to survive – and not just in case they contract COVID-19 but also in terms of surviving financially. There's a possibility that there might be vaccines, and that gives room for optimism, but we still don’t know whether the media sector will be as vibrant as it was before the pandemic and whether journalism will once again thrive.

How can journalists overcome these challenges?

The most important thing is that we see journalism education as the priority and continue to put our resources into it. This is the only way that we can guarantee quality journalism, both now and in the future. We should also remain creative, and not just with the stories we pitch. We should learn how to adapt to different situations, and test new technology, platforms and formats. In this pandemic, for example, we discovered that WhatsApp is cheaper than other platforms in Malawi, and so we've designed more programs accordingly. And of course, we need to include media owners and fight corruption.

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How has coverage changed during the pandemic?

Last September, Malawi's Access to Information Law went into effect. Most of the COVID-19information that we can access is data-based, but authorities have denied some requests made by journalists for additional information that's not data-based. This has left its mark on reporting because most stories can then only provide basic information, such as numbers. So, in a way, journalists are basically reflecting the government’s agenda. And this is something that we, as a media industry, need to look at and reflect on. 

Has COVID-19 only resulted in setbacks or have there been new opportunities, as well?

COVID-19 has also created new opportunities, especially when it comes to technology. Journalists have had to adapt to a new and completely digital world – for example, in conducting interviews, finding stories although travel is restricted, and finding and verifying data. In a way, you could argue that journalists have now become more proficient in data journalism. But of course, not everything is accessible online. If you are working on a story that requires different resources, as well as travelling and interacting with others, this newfound set of skills won't be enough.

Are local media playing a significant role in serving the public during the crisis?

Yes, to a huge extent. We've seen that local media – especially community broadcasters – have had a great impact in providing people with correct and crucial information. People tend to trust journalists who work in local community radio stations because people know them. These journalists also live in the communities and speak the local languages. So it's easier for people to understand and – most importantly – trust them. Malawi has a high level of illiteracy, and so community radios have become even more important because they provide life-saving information in a simplified way. People trust local media more than national or international media outlets.

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