BY MZATI NKOLOKOSA
The story about “bomb scare” at a meeting between the Attorney General and HRDC has confirmed, again, that journalism at Times Group, is dying. Or is dead and is being buried.
Malawi News of 31 August 2019 carried a story titled “Bomb Scare at AG, HRDC Meet.” The intro reads as follows: “A dialogue meeting between Attorney General and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) was yesterday disrupted following a failed attempt by unknown assailants to bomb a vehicle belonging to HRDC Vice-Chairperson Gift Trapence.”
The next paragraph says the bomb scare came after HRDC changed venue of the meeting twice for security concerns. Then the third paragraph says HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo accused government was responsible for the “bomb.”
He said: “This is not the first time to experience this. If not for our private security guard, our vehicles [would] have been bombed. Worse still, the incident was happening in the presence of Deputy Inspector of Police John Nyondo as well as many other police officers. One could ask how safe we are in our own country.”
The reporter, thereafter, gives what reads like an eye witness account of the attempted bombing. She writes: “The bomb scare came when [Attorney General Kalekeni] Kaphale ordered reporters and other people who came to follow the proceedings of the dialogue to walk out of the meeting room so that he could discuss with HRDC lawyer Khwima Mchizi in camera.
“The assailant who was among the people who came to follow the proceedings, alongside a colleague, then started inquiring about who was in HRDC. He then headed towards Trapence’s vehicle with what was suspected to be a hand grenade. However, a member of HRDC security detail smelled danger and followed the suspected assailant who fled for dear life.
“When the colleague of the assailant realised that his friend was cornered, he too, fled much to the surprise of journalists who had gathered outside the meeting room.
“Ironically, police officers who were at the venue did nothing to apprehend the suspects.
“After the incident, the meeting continued without the presence of HRDC leadership who boycotted after AG informed the meeting that journalists were not allowed to attend the meeting until after the discussion.”
I would spend two to three pages discussing the poor writing in the story: missed commas, poor construction of ideas and sentences, dull paragraphs, and other areas. But that is not a task for today. Now I would like to raise questions to demonstrate that the article is testimony that journalism ended at Times.
The first paragraph of the story signifies that the “bomb scare” happened. The editors were sure they reported the truth. The editors wrote a comment that showed their belief in the story.
Said the comment in part in paragraph four: “The uncovering of the bomb scare during the AG/HRDC meeting is quite unfortunate because it gives an impression that the government was not being honest on agenda of the meeting and might be harbouring sinister motives against the human rights defenders, which probably explains why the HRDC team had to twice ask for venue change before settling for the final destination where the bomb scare issue emanated.”
The 67 word, poorly written sentence is part of the fourth paragraph. If I were to analyse the quality of writing in the sentence, I would spend two to three pages. And this is an editorial written by editors. Now if editors can’t control their writing, can’t punctuate their sentences, can’t argue based on sound premises, who would? Well, the writing is for a different day.
The whole story is fiction. A grenade takes five seconds to explode and has a lethal area of 10 to 40 metres. There was no need for the “assailant” to get that close to the car. The editors would have known that a grenade is thrown at target not planted, if they understood security issues. I mean, haven’t the editors been following security reports in Iraq and Afghanistan?
The reporter’s narration about the incident implies she saw the “assailant” and his “colleague.” The reporter should have taken one or two pictures of the “Assailant” at some point when he was asking about HRDC leaders, planting a grenade, or running away. Or, at least the picture of the assailant’s colleague, running away. In addition, the reporter should have interviewed two of the many journalists who were present, to collaborate her account.
Well, I am asking too much for an incident that did not happen. And, as if to wash their hands, the editors wrote a disclaimer-like-paragraph in the comment: “But then, there is also need to tread carefully because the human rights defenders might try to ride the wave of the support they are enjoying from the public by staging antics that would win them more sympathy from their supporting their cause.”
Some conclusions here:
1. The reporter’s first-hand account of the bomb reads more like fiction than reality
2. Malawi News should have interviewed security experts about petrol bombs and grenades.
3. The newspaper should have reported how HRDC changed venues and ended up at a venue where there was a “bomb scare.” How should we, the audience, read into the changing of venues to a venue with a “bomb scare?”
4. The proper headline should have been “HRDC Fakes Bomb Scare”
It is sad that the country’s oldest media house could report a lie as truth. It is tragic that Malawi News is avoided valid questions to frame HRDC leaders as honest people.