To celebrate and popularize freedom of the press UNESCO supports the celebration of World Freedom Day which falls on 3 May each year. In 2017 UNESCO contributed financial assistance towards the holding of a panel discussion. The panel discussion was held under the topic ‘Free expression and access to information in Malawi: Relevance and role in promoting peace and more inclusive societies.’ The topic aimed at casting the spotlight on the relevance of free expression and access to information in fostering peace and inclusive societies. This topic was relevant considering the fact that government had passed into law, the Access to Information Bill (2017) two days prior to the celebrations.

 

Media Instituted of Southern Africa Malawi chapter (MISA Malawi) considered it key to organise a debate on this topic to give people an opportunity to discuss the relevance of access to information and freedom of expression in promoting peace and more inclusive societies. Among others, the debate revolved around the following issues:

  • The importance of freedom of expression in fostering peace;
  • The role played by access to information in promoting peace and more inclusive societies;
  • Inclusive strategies that can be developed to ensure that the right to seek and receive information is strengthened and used by the media as well as all groups in society?
  • How the general public can be included in a significant manner in the efforts to achieve the 2030 Development Agenda; and
  • How to ensure the protection of fundamental freedoms when the rule of law is not respected.

Three panelists took part in the debate namely, Thom Khanje, chairperson of MISA Malawi; Brian Ligomeka, independent think tank and renowned media freedom and freedom of expression activist; and Ellard Manjawira, Head of Journalism and Media Studies Department at the Polytechnic, University of Malawi.

Making remarks before the start of the panel discussion, the Acting Executive Secretary of the Malawi National Commission for UNESCO, Mr. Emmanuel Kondowe said the theme of celebration was focused on why it is vital to strengthen free and quality journalism to enable the media to effectively contribute to the achievement of SDG 16 especially target 16.10 which seeks to ensure public access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms.

For several decades now, radio has been one of the most appealing tools for participatory communication and development in communities. Community radio in particular has become the most potentially participatory medium with its roots in the community which guarantees that communication processes play a central role in the lives of members of a community. Community radio should therefore be viewed as an important element of a collective community communication system as it plays a major role in bridging the communication gap among local people.

Its potential and instrumentalities for role performance, capacity development and its ability to respond to the communication needs of individuals and institutions cannot be underestimated. Outstanding among its noble intentions is its potential to spread the social benefits of community development through the promotion of indigenous initiatives. Furthermore, it is through community radio’s corroboration with other media that communities are empowered to understand their responsibilities and rights in building democratic societies. In the case of Malawi, the many requests for community radios by communities attest to this.

The first UNESCO assisted community radio in Malawi, Dzimwe Community Radio Station, was established in 1998. It is located in Monkey Bay in Southern Malawi. A second one followed, Nkhotakota Community Radio Station in the Central Region of the same name, Nkhotakota and then a third followed on the watery district of Likoma/Chizumulu Islands.

Currently there are six community radio stations in Malawi established with financial assistance of UNESCO namely, Dzimwe and Nathepa Community Radio Stations in Southern Malawi, Nkhotakota Community Radio Station in the Central Malawi, Likoma/Chizumulu Islands, Usisya and Chirundu in Northern Malawi.

Now and again UNESCO, through the Malawi National Commission for UNESCO, provides assistance for capacity building

Recent capacity building assistance for community radios

Capacity building for the coverage of gender based violence

It has become increasingly apparent that women in marriages and intimate partner relationships, such as boy/girlfriend relationships, couples living together and in the general population, have emerged as social groups that experience a lot of what is now commonly referred to as gender-based violence. The acknowledgement that violence against women is a cruel, dangerous and an inhuman social phenomenon whose prevalence is on the increase, is probably one of the reasons that led to the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

In Malawi, like in most countries around the world, women, regardless of race, nationality, class or age are victims of physical, sexual and economic violence or even of feminicide. Gender based violence is a major obstacle to the realization of the potential women have to contribute to the development of their societies by taking part as equal partners.

The media has the potential to play a lead role in changing perceptions of gender-based violence in that in turn it can help galvanise a move for change.

It is in view of the problem of gender based violence and the important role the media can play in reducing incidences of gender based violence that the Malawi National Commission for UNESCO organised training in coverage of gender based violence. The objective was to impart skills and knowledge that would enable community radio broadcasters disseminate information that would lead to creating better awareness of gender based violence and its effects in order to reduce its occurrence thereby enabling women to fully contribute to the development of their communities. The training targeted the two community radio stations of Dzimwe and Nkhotakota.

Capacity building for community radios for sustainability

Under the 2016/2017 Participation Programme UNESCO has provided financial assistance to enable community personnel acquire skills and knowledge that will enable them operate their stations sustainably. The specific objectives are to impart:

  • skills and knowledge that will help participants run their radios sustainably;
  • skills in providing gender sensitive radio programmes; and
  • knowledge and skills on how to write successful project proposals

The first training has since been carried out. Participants came from Likoma/Chizumulu, Usisya and Chirundu community radio stations. The second training will target Dzimwe, Nkhotakota and Chirundu.

Capacity building for the coverage of gender based violence

It has become increasingly apparent that women in marriages and intimate partner relationships, such as boy/girlfriend relationships, couples living together and in the general population, have emerged as social groups that experience a lot of what is now commonly referred to as gender-based violence. The acknowledgement that violence against women is a cruel, dangerous and an inhuman social phenomenon whose prevalence is on the increase, is probably one of the reasons that led to the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

In Malawi, like in most countries around the world, women, regardless of race, nationality, class or age are victims of physical, sexual and economic violence or even of feminicide. Gender based violence is a major obstacle to the realization of the potential women have to contribute to the development of their societies by taking part as equal partners.

The Dzimwe Team pictured at their new premises where the activities took place

The media has the potential to play a lead role in changing perceptions of gender-based violence  that in turn it can help galvanise a move for change.

It is in view of the problem of gender based violence and the important role the media can play in reducing incidences of gender based violence that the National Commission organised training in coverage of gender based violence. The objective was to impart skills and knowledge that would enable community radio broadcasters disseminate information that would lead to creating better awareness of gender based violence and its effects. It is expected that this will reduce the occurrence of gender bised violence thereby enabling women to fully contribute to the development of their communities. The training targeted the two community radio stations of Dzimwe and Nkhotakota.

Nkhotakota community radio personnel with NATCOM staff