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

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

51 Sadly, the public

51 Sadly, the public service broadcasters‟ chance to develop into a pillar of democracy was soon lost as the new government decided that it could not release this most powerful weapon for monopolizing access to and so influencing the people. Can it be that all parties in Malawi with an eye on a future position of power are loath to risk arriving one day as victors having, in opposition, voted this weapon out of their armoury? Neale (2004, p.183) himself states that this desire to control the powerful state radio is “. . . like an original sin that appears to stain the character of all who achieve political power.” With regards to the print media, findings in this strand of literature suggests the strong influence of ownership and its alignment to political parties in the 1994 and 1999 elections (see Chimombo & Chimombo, 1996; Patel, 2000; Manda, 2004, p.174-175; Neale, 2004, p.186). This aspect was particularly true of the 1994 election when there was a clearly partisan ownership and a lot more to gain or lose as these were the first multiparty election since 1964. However, by 1999, Patel (2000) had observed the Nation and the Weekend Nation were carrying coverage that was decidedly critical and unbiased. By the 2004 election, coverage in all the leading newspapers was critical and judged unbiased even though generally negative towards the ruling UDF and its presidential candidate Bingu wa Mutharika. Neale (2004, p.183 & 187) attempted to explain this evolution: Newspapers with relatively small circulation, have been allowed comparative freedom of expression. They provide an escape valve for discontent in the urban areas without raising doubts in the minds of the majority of voters in rural areas. . . . their influence, while significant, is less than that of the electronic media.

52 In short, the government has not felt it necessary to totally control the press as it has done with the state broadcaster. To do so would be superfluous on the government‟s part. After all, its control of the state broadcasters gives it a powerful propaganda tool. Further, the critical analysis in the newspapers is desired to maintain the appearance of being tolerant to press freedom. The literature on the media‟s coverage of politics in Malawi reveals the unstable environment in which the media operates. Like the society it serves, the media in Malawi has to deal with the negative legacy of 31 years of dictatorial rule and colonial rule before it. In part, this legacy means that the media, much in the same way as the society it serves, is defining itself and the function it should play in the democratic space. However, this process is subject to control by the state and other elements who seek to gain control over media due to its importance as a medium of information at times of political contests such as elections. The literature‟s sparse and patchy state reveals gaps in the research on media and political coverage. This study seeks to fill at least three gaps by conducting an analysis of press text within the frame theory framework. First, this study moves away from the coverage of high intensity election campaign periods when political awareness is heightened in the country, which seems to be a feature of most of the studies covered here. It concentrates on the periods immediately following elections when winners have been decided. Such periods are marked by lesser political intensity and anticipation of things to come. Yet it is during these periods that politicians in decision-making positions make assessments of the past and attempt to shape an agenda for the future. Second, this study is more extensive than the previous content analysis studies because it draws from extensive data. As can be noted from the literature reviewed, none of them are a sustained textual analysis of a particular political contest. The studies

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