Carving Media Space for Children in Malawi
Save the Children Malawi recently supported the newly established Media Advocates for the Advancement of Child Rights (MAACR) to conduct its first media training workshop aimed at equipping journalists with skills to competently report children’s issues. President of the MAACR, Mallick Mnela, gives an account of how the journey towards championing child-friendly journalism started in Malawi:
In the Malawi media, children have largely been by-standers to the news headlines even when the news was about them and for them. An average of 90% of media content caters for adult centric news in the country’s leading print media, with a few isolated mentions of children without being quoted.
The lack of giving children a voice at the forefront had become so deep rooted so much so that advocates for change were needed to effect desirable change.
In our early conversations in mainstream media circles, some detractors argued that children’s issues can best be tackled in the various existing beats – education, sports, business and environment.
Some journalists resisted this. If the media had been reasonable to accord children a fair share of coverage, positive portrayal and respected their rights, the generic approach would have been ideal.
To change this narrative, we realized a movement to champion child-friendly journalism was the game-changer.
Firstly, we agreed to beat the overwhelming resistance with evidence
We engaged in a self-sponsored survey on how the country’s two leading newspapers, The Nation and the Daily Times covered children towards the end of last year. The research established that coverage was as low as 2 % in November and 6% in December, 2016.
Our anecdotal assertions were corroborated: coverage of children’s issues was negligible; children were barely quoted as sources, they were only given prominence when it was negative news aimed at inducing emotion, girls were mostly victims whilst boys were mostly portrayed as offenders. Furthermore, ethics were flouted with little regard for recourse!
The findings made us realize the problem was too big to be ignored. Children’s issues in the media would best be championed by journalists who stand up for their rights.
The first order of business was setting up a Whatsapp campaign to stimulate debate on reporting children. On the forum, we would scan children’s articles published in newspapers and analyze them to determine if children were quoted as sources, if their rights were not violated and suggest how it would have been done better. The forum is also a mentorship platform where reporters are coached on how to develop irresistible pitches on children’s stories.
The peer review impressed many and displeased a few – but most importantly, it helped raise awareness that there was a group of journalists working to change the news discourse on the children beat. The MAACR was etching its path and gaining traction.
The establishment of the MAACR gained impetus with the coming of Tina Yu as the new Country Director of Save the Children Malawi.
An opportunity for a breakthrough presented itself when Tina asked about media trends in reporting children in Malawiduring her inaugural press briefing.
For obvious reasons, the outcomes of a survey we had carried out came in handy. It helped paint a picture in a succinct and scientific manner.
Impressed with the impromptu presentation, sub-sequentmeetings followed.
Word of mouth spread about the regular meetings and journalists – reporters, producers, chief reporters and editors - thronged to join.
From such meetings, we created rapport and later expressed our desire to be trained and to get support in our planned lobbying work.
“We have no reason to say no. We believe you’re doing a great job and we can only hope your work will help provide solutions to some of the challenges you have identified. Children deserve better,” Yu said in response to our plea.
Coincidentally, at this point, veteran Zambian journalist Henry Kabwe, Executive Director of the Media Network on Child Rights and Development (MNCRD) was already offering online mentorship and guidance to the MAACR leadership.
With all this support, failure or giving up was not an option!
From the day Nomsa Taulo, who works in the communications and advocacy department at Save the Children Malawi called informing me the requested training was going to take place, I could only expect nothing but a wonderful time.
“The training is on.It’ll take place on the 14th and 15th of June 2017 at Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe!” she announced.
“Henry Kabwe will be there alongside our regional staff from Kenya and South Africa,” she said, adding that I would be expected to make a presentation on the outcomes of the baseline survey I and my colleague Mandy Pondani had conducted towards the end of 2016.
The thought of making a presentation alongside my mentor was inspiring.
Right from the start, facilitatorsHenry, Neesha Fakir and Elizabeth Muiruri reinforced the notion that reporting children is critical and a preserve for serious-minded and action-oriented journalists.
No wonder the Crossroads Declaration was conceived at the end of the training!
The Declaration highlights the journalists’ commitment to protecting children, increased positive media coverage, abiding by media ethics, eliminating discrimination, involving children in the news (as sources and producers), engage in peer reviews and allocating adequate resources towards production of child-friendly media content.
In addition to the Declaration, MAACR and MNCRD signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to foster relations between the two organizations in Malawi and Zambia respectively.
The MoU seeks to enable the two organizations consolidate their resolve in advancing children’s rights through media advocacy, research and training.
The pact also suggests exchange programs as part of capacity building, the first of its kind between two media networks in Zambia and Malawi.
SCI PQD Director Thokozani Bema(left) MAACR President Mallick Mnela(centre) and Henry Kabwe MNCRD Executive Director(right) pose for a photo after MAACR and MNCRD signed the MOU
The most significant effect of the Save the Children sponsored training is that it gave the MAACR exposure, voice, legitimacy and some semblance of authority in promoting and advancing children’s voice in the media.
In the short to medium term, we will attempt to reach out to the remaining journalists with training, lobby media owners and editors to adopt the Crossroads Declaration.
We also wish to engage children with media literacy skills and groom spokespersons on children’s issues from among the children’s parliamentarians.
“We are pleased to have journalists so passionate about children’s issues. Save the Children commits to supporting such initiatives,” Yu reassured during a side meeting at the Crossroads training.
>>>> BY Mallick Mnela-President MAACR