Global Voice: Malawi

By Sarah Ostman

Victor Kaonga

Victor Kaonga is a broadcast journalist and blogger from Malawi, a landlocked country in southern Africa and one of the least developed nations in the world. Like most Malawians, he’s also a Christian, which has a heavy influence on his work. His blog, “Ndagha,” covers “personal and analytical perspectives on global issues affecting the world and me.” Kaonga continues, “With bias towards Christians and Malawi, the blogger continues to learn and grow in the discipline of global journalism.”

Kaonga lives in Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe, where he’s worked as a producer at Trans World Radio, a Christian radio station, since 1999. This past February he was promoted to national director. He produces shows in three languages – Chichewa, the national language;  ChiTumbuka, a secondary language spoken in the country; and English. He blogs on his own blog and on Global Voices. He holds a bachelor of social science from the University of Malawi and a master’s in Global Journalism from Örebro University in Sweden. He also teaches broadcast media at the Malawi Institute of Journalism.

Malawi has both state-run and private news agencies, which seems to make for an interesting situation there. Kaonga says journalists generally enjoy a lot of press freedom, but some harder news outlets have complained of some low-level government interference.

One of the country’s main English newspapers, the Nyasa Times, reported in February that the government was refusing to place advertisements in private papers, which threatens to put them out of business. Some journalists worry that a recent push to force journalists to get accredited will allow government officials to keep information from some qualified reporters. And during the 2009 presidential election, a radio station owned by a former president and opposition leader was raided and two journalists and a technician were taken into custody for re-airing a report from the previous year that contradicted the current president’s claims that the country’s food supplies were secure.

How long have you been a journalist? How did you get started?

Since September 2006. I was looking forward to blogging, having heard about it the year before at a conference in South Africa. At that time, I did not know how until I came to Sweden for the course (his graduate program), when one of the former course mates taught us about blogging and how to do it.

I understand just having stable Internet access can be a challenge in your country. What made you first get involved in the field?

I have been blogging for several reasons: One, to share information about and on Malawi. I thought I am a privileged person, being a journalist in Malawi who can say something on the Internet, especially through blogs. Two, I really wanted to tell my own stories in a way that I had never thought of before hoping to expand my social networks. Three, I just wanted to grow and learn more about this Information Highway by ‘being in it.’  Fourthly, I come from a background where I have always admired participating in global issues and I thought the blogosphere was the perfect place for me to start from.

What kind of journalism or blogging do you do?

I am mostly a broadcast journalist. However, in my moments of blogging, I tend to focus more on person and global issues. I am not so much into news coverage, though I do that equally frequently.

I have lots of freedom to express myself, put things into both global and personal perspective in ways I cannot in a normal media outlet. Blogging gives me space also to mix text, images and sounds sometimes, which is not possible in radio alone, where I am used and where I started working in August 1999. In my career as a journalist, I have mostly been in broadcasting, hence blogging is a way of making putting words into sentences on ‘paper.’ Otherwise, I am mostly a voice person.

I have read in the news lately that there have been some controversy surrounding gay rights lately in your country. What are some other major news stories in Malawi right now?

The main ones surround the leadership succession at the presidential level leading to the 2014 presidential and parliamentary elections. Then we also have quite some interesting conversations around shortage of fuel, forex  (foreign exchange, i.e., currency) and power in Malawi.

What are some of the challenges you face as a journalist in your country? (i.e., is there much corruption? Is it difficult to access public officials as a journalist?)

There is considerable amount of freedom in Malawi. Censorship is there, but I would say mostly, it is self-censorship, having come from a background of 30 years of dictatorial rule until 1994. But the biggest challenge in my view in Malawi is political influence on and in the media and not necessarily censorship per se. There is both public and private media, and I think private media is doing a very commendable job. Currently one of the main challenges is limited access to information on issues of pubic concern. There is still a bill in parliament on access to information. Maybe things will improve once that has been passed into law.

How have you seen the journalism profession change in your country?

I can comment with reference to the period between 1990s to date. I think there is more in-depth stories, I guess resulting from good training. There seems to be quite some shift towards multi-skilling and utilization. The electronic media has been more dynamic with a few more houses opening up and thereby increasing the competition.

The state media, however, seems to have grown worse, yet in a democratic era- has been heavily used for propaganda by the state officials, especially the ruling party gurus.

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