Tuesday, May 14, 2013

From the Mouth of Malawi Electoral Commission's Commisioner Elvey Mtafu



13TH MAY, 2013



My fellow Commissioners
The Chief Elections Officer, Mr Willie Kalonga
Ms Thandie Nkovole, Coordinator of the Course
Mr Wellington Katantha, The Lead Facilitator and other Facilitators
Distinguished Participants
Ladies and Gentlemen

I should start by saying that am delighted to be here and offer a few remarks before the start of this workshop. This is the first training that the Commission is organizing for the media as part of capacity building ahead of the Tripartite Elections in 2014.

The media are a crucial partner in elections and as Malawi Electoral Commission we are eager to see to it that our partners are discharging their roles in a professional and excellent manner and that any competency gaps should be addressed. That is why we have lined up a number of training workshops aiming at equipping our stakeholders with knowledge and skills. Two weeks ago, we had a two-week Train the Facilitator Training (TTF) workshop at this very same place where we invited participants from the civil society organizations to train them so that they can also train others competently using adult learning techniques.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there are several media training workshops which the Commission has lined up just targeting the media but the one we are having today is unique from the others. This training is following a Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections (BRIDGE) curriculum. BRIDGE is an internationally reputed project and an authority in elections curriculum. What it means is that the material you will learn from this workshop is the same that is being learnt in all other countries where this module has been tackled. Our facilitators are going to explain to you the background of BRIDGE and you will agree with me it is a rich curriculum. The certificate that you will get at the end of the training is internationally recognized and that is why I urge you to attend all the sessions. Fulltime attendance is one of the conditions for one to be awarded a certificate.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to talk about the responsibility of the media in ensuring that we have free, fair and credible elections. Because the media reaches out to a multitude of audience within a short time, you have a critical role of bringing electoral information to the public. You need to do this in a manner that does not disadvantage any contestant. Otherwise, if the media do not offer a level playing field for all contestants, this approach can easily undermine all the efforts by the Malawi Electoral Commission and all stakeholders to have free, fair and credible elections. You would, therefore, be doing a disfavor to the Malawian populace. As the media you also have a responsibility of building a well informed electorate that is motivated and interested to participate in elections.

As we are in elections period, may I also appeal to you to exercise reason and rationale in your reporting. Elections are an emotive exercise because of what is at stake and no one goes into an election expecting to lose although the fact still stands out that there will always be only one winner in an election. You should be cautious that the material you broadcast or publish does not perpetrate hostility, violence, aggression, hatred, tribalism, unrest, conflict or anything that falls in this class. Examples abound world over where media, without exercising caution in their reportage have fueled electoral disputes resulting in civil unrests and loss of life. The Rwandan genocide always stands out as a classical example. One of the radio presenters in Rwanda, Georges Henri Yvon Joseph Ruggiu, was sentenced to 12 years by the International Criminal Tribunal for inciting violence. And recently, during the previous elections in Kenya, the media had a portion of their blame for the aftermath violence that erupted . We would not want such scenarios for Malawi and that is why we are conducting trainings like these ones that will enable you report effectively about elections.

I should also urge you to be cautious on reporting opinion polls. We usually have pollsters surfacing during elections some of whom their credentials are very questionable and always come up with questionable poll statistics. We would urge you to question such characters before publicizing their results. Some of the opinions that are published, have potential impact of discouraging the electorate from participating in electoral activities and perpetuating voter apathy. Always ask them to disclose how they carried out their opinion polls, their sample size, who commissioned the opinion poll and when it was done. Few critical questions can unearth information that can help you establish whether an opinion poll was bogus or genuine.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as Malawi Electoral Commission we will continue to remain a friend of the media. We will always give you information so that you write better and informed articles about elections. Apart from training, we are also planning for the review of the media code of conduct, which acts as a guide and reference book your practice as far as election reporting is concerned. This review will be done in a consultative process whereby all media houses will participate. We will hold a consultative workshop where all the media houses in the country will attend.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Malawi Electoral Commission has taken a cycle approach to elections management, that is we are no longer treating elections as an event that takes place once every five years but as a cycle of five years. I also invite you to adopt the same cycle approach to your reporting about elections. It is common to see many journalists writing about elections, radios come up with special programes and newspapers coming up with special supplements. All these disappear after polling and results announcement. With the electoral cycle approach, there will be many activities that will be happening in between the ballot that we will need you to publicise for our and the benefit of the Malawian public.

People still need to be informed about electoral issues; those who attain voting age in between elections need to be educated about their right to vote and in all this we need the media. Your sustained reporting about elections even after elections can greatly help counter voter apathy and maintain the interest of the electorate in election issues. That aside, you also have a responsibility on checking on elected officers to ensure that they are delivering what they promised the electorate during the campaign period.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I will not resume my seat without talking about the new media. Facebook, twitter, blogs and other platforms have become effective and cost effective tools for communication. With the convergence of the media, we have already seen newspapers and radio stations setting up facebook pages. This just shows the influence that the social media platforms are gaining. I have also noted that some journalists have their own facebook and blogs where they post their material to share with the public. I should urge you to still apply your journalistic ethics and standards when using social media.

The media code of conduct is not suspended just because the material is being distributed through new media where we currently don’t have a legislation as a nation. Those with interactive platforms where readers can post comments ought to exercise care and responsibility that the comments being posted are palatable and that they could run in their papers or radio. If newspapers edit letters to the editor why should you not exercise the same with comments from readers for their online publications? Without curtailing freedom of expression, the media have a responsibility to ensure that there is sanity in the comments and feedback from readers that appears on the online publications.

Lastly distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to thank the European Union through the Democratic Governance Programme (DGP) for proving the financial support towards this course. Let me express our gratitude to the EU DGP for the countless unconditional support it gives to the Commission. The preparatory phase of this election period has largely been successful due to the support from the EU DGP.

It is now my hounor and privilege to declare this workshop opened. I wish you fruitful time and stay at this place.

Thank you very much

May God bless you all

May God Bless Our Nation

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