Director of Information in the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Gideon Munthali has described as worrisome the tendency by some journalists who go ahead to write on topics they are not familiar with.
Munthali was speaking in Lilongwe on Wednesday during a workshop organized by the Malawi Human Rights Commission to orient media managers on the Access to Information Act.
Munthali who is a seasoned journalist himself disclosed that of late he has been asked questions by journalists on Access to Information Act that demonstrated the lack of understanding of the law by the concerned journalists.
“Imagine a question one of the journalists asked me recently who wanted to know when the head of state was going to gazette the Access to information Act, I told him the president does not gazette laws he only assents to them.
” Another one asked me when the Minister of information would enact the access to information bill when the process of enactment was actually done by parliament,” explained Munthali.
He said in both cases, there was a clear demonstration of the lack of a deeper understanding of the subject of the Access to Information Act the two journalists wanted to write about.
Said Munthali: “It becomes very dangerous when a journalist is not adequately informed because you end up confusing people. Most of the times we have cases where the public gets confused because the people that are communicating to them are also confused.
“I therefore appeal to all journalists not only those that attended the orientation workshop, but journalists across to be familiar with these pieces of legislation so that when you are asking questions you ask them from an informed angle.”
He said the first person in the line of communication who should be adequately informed in terms of familiarity with the ATIA legislation is the journalist himself.
“The orientation should not be the end in itself but let them (the journalists) get copies of the ATIA – let them read extensively, where they don’t understand let them consult so that when they are adequately informed, then they can effectively communicate to the public,” said Munthali.
Munthali observed that sometimes news sources refuse to grant interviews because they see that the journalist is inadequate.
“Surely if the journalist is inadequate, chances of misquoting you or distorting information are very high,” he said.
Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chairperson, Teresa Temweka Ndanga attributed the development to dwindling standards of the reading culture among many Malawians.
She therefore called for a revival of the reading culture in Malawian schools and other institutions of learning.
“The journalists ought to understand that they are not experts in the various fields they endeavor to write about hence the need for them to read widely to have sufficient background on the issue at hand.
” In the case of the ATIA, they should have grabbed the document and read it thoroughly so that they knew exactly what they were going to ask about,” explained Ndanga.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission is currently orienting various stakeholders on the Access to Information Act pending its implementation in the foreseeable future.
Malawi President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika assented to the Access to Information bill in February, 2017.-MANA