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Chapter Five 1999 Post-Elections Period - Leicester Research ...

Chapter Five 1999 Post-Elections Period - Leicester Research ...

211 Change in ownership

211 Change in ownership at the BNL newspapers and change in the proprietor‟s political alignment at the NPL newspapers and the Chronicle prepared conditions for an unshackled press commentary on the state of politics in Malawi. These conditions were not created by accident. The worsening economic conditions meant that the UDF would no longer claim to have improved the lot of the Malawian people (See Muula and Chanika, 2004 for a fuller discussion). Chinsinga (2003) observed that the undemocratic manner with which Mutharika came to lead the UDF also created dissatisfaction leading to an exodus that included the NPL newspapers owner, Aleke Banda, and former Vice- President Justin Malewezi. With Banda‟s departure the UDF lost the support of the NPL stable in the newspapers arena. Further, the violent manner with which the UDF had conducted itself from 1998 to the 2004 election turned many civil society activists, including Robert Jamieson, against it. This also meant that the UDF lost the support of the Chronicle. In addition, the predatory nature of the state gave courageous civil society, especially the Church, the opportunity to articulate the undemocratic manner with which the UDF was running the country. In short, there was a re-alignment of relations between owners, the press, and sections of civil society. This meant that civil society which usually finds itself shut out from access to the media (Waisbord, 2009) suddenly found that the press had opened up as a result of ownership changes and re-alignments and that the press was now fertile ground for the civil society cause. All this meant that the dichotomised nature of debating political issues facing Malawi was no longer possible. Any media house attempting to continue along that path did that at the risk of appearing shallow and irrelevant. Alfred Ntonga, the editor of the Nation noted regarding the press‟s negative coverage of the UDF and Mutharika:

212 Admittedly, we were critical to Bingu . . . because we wanted to find out who exactly the man, who had been imposed on the UDF and was being marketed as a prudent economist, was. The country was in a mess and the UDF was at the helm (Manda, 2004, p.75). In short, a more critical and analytical approach to press reportage became possible, and was necessary. The political parties could no longer take the newspapers for granted. As Khaila and Mthinda (2006) note the mood of the people had changed as political and cultural life was largely defined by an attempt to break with the UDF and Bakili Muluzi (See also Muula and Chanika, 2004). The benefits for the newspaper consuming citizens are evident from the positive assessment of the scholars and election observers cited above. As Yadgar (2010, p.162) argues a wide perspective is necessary in order to trace and determine the implications of critical moments and events in a nation‟s political culture. Starting from a negative critique of the new administration, the press were able to use their freedom to widen their view of the nation beyond the narrow partisan scope and political binaries observed in the 1994 and 1999 case studies. This enabled the press to progressively assess and re-assess Mutharika and his administration in 2004 from a negative coverage to a positive one. The existence of a civil society and of democratic rule is dependent upon the people‟s ability to engage in a genuine discussion in a vital public sphere (Koopmans, 2004, p.369). At the very heart of a genuinely vital public sphere is the news media as mediators. The news media are supposed to provide free access to different and competing views, disseminate them in the free market of ideas, and be at the service of political deliberation. As revealed by the critical-analytical nature of the emerging newspaper frames in chapter six, the press in Malawi came close to providing that

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