45 Nations‟ UNDP Human Development Index. Malawi‟s poverty headcount (percent below poverty line) was 66 percent in 1998 (World Bank). Patel (2000) argues that there is willingness on the part of many journalists to disseminate information and offer the Malawian public alternative information. However, the media face a number of constraints such as the practical problems of sourcing newsprint, the costs of printing, the weak production infrastructure, unfavourable finance and tax arrangements, indifference or hostility to emerging media, lack of spare parts, supplies and advertising. The above analysis presents a discussion on the broad political context in which the Malawian media operates. It provides an entry point for a discussion of the various aspects that differently affect the operation of the Malawian media in the milieu described above. Thus, the next part of this section concentrates on the construction of the media in Malawi. 2.3.2 Summary The factors discussed above are pervasive and affect the national life. Just as all other facets of life are affected, the media and its professionals are affected. It is these challenges that shape not only the production and content of media but also the motivations of media personnel. In this respect, the above discussion provides an entry point to a discussion of the literature on political discourse in the Malawian media. 2.4 The Media and Political Coverage in Malawi This study attempts to add to the body of knowledge on the media and political coverage in Malawi, and societies in transition in Africa. As will be noticed below, there is a dearth of such studies in Malawi. Just as the media have struggled to redefine
46 their role in a multiparty society, so have media scholars in Malawi struggled to examine, draw generalisations and theorise about the media in Malawi. This is mainly because the research agenda has been unfocussed and lacking in continuity. The research studies seem to be ad hoc and drawn on limited data. Further, lack of financial support and government indifference greatly hampers such research. The literature on the media and political coverage in Malawi can be divided into four clusters. The first category is the general historical and polemical literature against the conduct of the MCP regime regarding the population in general and the media in particular. This literature is made up of historical studies cataloguing the MCP government‟s systematic abuse and suppression of the population and the media in particular. Such studies include (Chimombo & Chimombo, 1996, p.22; Chimombo, 1998, p.217-236; Lwanda, 2009, p.139; Chipangula 2000; Patel, 2000, p.158-164). This literature discusses the threat posed by the media to Dr. Banda and the MCP‟s quest for total domination, and more importantly, Dr. Banda‟s suppression of the media. Further, there is discussion of the manner in which Dr. Banda took over the significant media outlets and turned them into mouthpieces of his MCP. The discussion of the brutal suppression of journalism and journalists including censorship and imprisonment is discussed within the context of the general disenfranchisement of the Malawian people pursued by Dr. Banda and his MCP. The same literature also discusses the narrow ownership of newspapers which was restricted to Dr. Banda and the MCP through the Blantyre Print and Publishing Company, and the restriction of the electronic media to the MBC. Of course, such a narrow role and tight control of the press meant that media discourse was supposed to mirror that of ruling elites, and serve the purpose of perpetuating their stay in power.