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Organisation : Malawi Electoral Commission
Facility : Media Monitoring Unit MMU
Country : Malawi
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MEC MW Media Monitoring Unit

The Unit has been set up by the Malawi Electoral Commission to monitor the performance of the nation’s media, in the run-up to the coming elections.

Related : Malawi Electoral Commission Registration of Voters :

The standards by which MEC’s media monitors are already assessing the performance of the broadcasting and print media houses were established in April 2008 when the leaders of all the main companies voluntarily drew up their own self-regulating Media Code of Conduct.

This Code, which was signed publicly in June 2008, is comparably with accepted international best practice. 12 Malawians are trained to monitor the media.

The Code calls upon the media to be fair and accurate in its reporting at all times and to give equitable coverage to political parties.

The system by which the Media Monitoring Unit is assessing the performance is by recording virtually all the political output of all national broadcasting, both public and private and by dissecting the content of every issue of the national daily papers.

Every political item, whether it be news or comment, interview, discussion, debate, press conference, walk-about, convention or rally is measured for broadcast time or newspaper space.

The Unit is currently studying daily, page by page, the contents of The Daily Times, Malawi News and The Sunday Times, The Nation, the Weekend Nation and the Sunday Nation. TVM, MBC1 and 2, 101, Capital, MIJ FM, Zodiak, Radio Islam, Radio Maria, TWR, Star Radio and Joy Radio are all recorded seven days a week.

Positive & negative Coverage

How does the Unit decide what is “positive” and what is “negative”? “Positive” signifies of positive electoral advantage. Negative coverage (coverage of negative advantage to the party concerned) is perfectly proper where the reporting is delivering a true picture. Providing negative coverage exclusively is obviously unfair and contrary to the Code’s call for balance.

However the Media Code specifically points out that if an event that is, on the surface, government business is used in total or in part for openly promoting the electoral interests of whichever party is in power, such use of an electoral opportunity should be included in the assessment of what constitutes balanced coverage.

Democratically Balanced Journalism

These notes set out to explain to Media Code signatories and to all interested voters what the significance of “positive” and “negative” is in MMU reports that appear in the newspapers.

The MMU categorizes political coverage in terms of its beneficial or detrimental value to political parties. Is this report positive or negative to the electoral interests of the party or parties that it concerns?

Giving one party over a period of time only ‘positive’ coverage (i.e. good news for them) and another party only ‘negative’ coverage (i.e. bad news for them) is not proper balanced democratic journalism. Is ‘negative coverage’ a breach of the Media Code? No. Not unless it is being used as part of a campaign to discredit a political party.

‘Positive’ and ‘Negative’ in this context are not about the quality of the journalism but about the electoral value of particular coverage to a political party.

The current series of published reports by the MMU with their graphs and charts and the associated text attempted to show the degree of fairness being achieved by the media in political coverage.

One of the most frequently raised charges against individual media houses is the one that says “That newspaper,” or “That broadcast channel only promotes Party X” or “only attacks Party Y”.

The defense is “Ah, but we reported on Party Y’s Press Conference last week”. “Yes, but then you did a two hour discussion with Party X politicians pulling Party Y’s statements to pieces…” And so the argument goes back and forth.

The MMU’s intention is to clarify this by monitoring the great majority of political coverage by the media and actually timing with a stopwatch every item in news bulletins and in other political coverage, discussions, debates, commentaries, call-in talk shows, rallies, editorial and so on.

If we stopped there, and supposing Party X and Party Y on Channel A both, on the face of it, had received equal total time over a lengthy period, would everyone agree that that was “fair”? Highly unlikely. Party Y might say (possibly correctly) “But they only publish negative news about our party!”

By this they would mean that the paper’s or channel’s coverage of their party usually sought to discredit them rather than give them a chance to present their policies and answer challenges and charges from elsewhere.

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