Embarrassed Times Group is attempting to seek public sympathy through a half-hearted apology over a partisan caption it ran on the front page of its newspaper, The Daily Times.
The ‘Spot the difference…’ caption depicting opposition MCP youths and ruling DPP youths was a clearest evidence yet of Times Media Group’s new-found role as a mouthpiece of MCP.
The caption turned out to be a grave misjudgement of its kind in media history in Malawi as, instead of garnering favour for the party which it speaks for, Times has received a a severest social media battering a media house in Malawi has ever suffered.
As the paper went to the streets, the public verdict was swift and unanimous, that Times has dragged itself to the lowest point of discredit by publishing a front page propaganda story that abandons all principles of journalism.
Some of the unkindest condemnation has come from the very strategists of MCP, lawyers and top media professionals some of whom worked for Times previously, among others.
Stanley Kenani, a speech writer for MCP president Lazarus Chakwera and a well-known close ally for Times’ Managing Editor George Kasakula was among the first to express outrage at the caption.
In a facebook post, Kenani wrote: “Dear Daily Times. Are you having a slow news day? This is blatantly partisan. We expect you to be independent.”
Idriss Nassah, a former editor at Times, also hauled the media house over the calls for the caption, writing; “This is quite disingenuous of The Daily Times. A simple search will reveal numerous photos of MCP youth covered in paint. The Daily Times claims to be fair and balanced. It has to live by that. This is a failure to do what it claims it does, what it should do, and what society expects it to do. The Daily Times should be careful not to become ensnared by one political party into a symbiotic web of political manipulation that misleads the public.”
Another well known top media professional Soviet Kabungwe described the caption as “the real definition of the smellest of trash.”
“…. this is the lowest point of journalism for The Daily Times. This stuff is for the social media not for a full media house with experienced editors. Someone is furiously lazy……This type of journalism is pretty desperate for a mainstream media. The real definition of the smellest of trash..” Kabungwe write on facebook.
The public condemnation of Times has been outpouring on social media the whole day for the gutter journalism it has perfected since Managing Director Leonard Chikadya appointed Kasakula , a strategist of MCP who three times failed in the party’s primaries for a parliament seat.
Times is Malawi’s oldest media house. Born Nyasaland Times in 1895 as a colonial British Government newspaper, inherited as a Malawi Government owned mouthpiece of MCP dictatorship between 1964 to 1994, the media company was stolen by the Kamuzu Banda family and became a private media house.
In one day, Times suffered its so far the worst public condemnation for publishing a story that exposes its partisan position.
The consequences have been grave and Times may not recover from the damage. The Editor of the paper, Madalitso Musa who was not on duty, absented himself from work on Wednesday as he was totally embarrassed by what his colleagues had done. Mavuto Banda who was a stand-in Editor is to be disciplined although he was only carrying instructions from George Kasakula the Editor-in-chief.
Kasakula is known openly telling his newsroom that “I hate President Mutharika. I hate DPP. ”
In a desperate attempt to salvage its face from the unparalled embarrassment and serious credibility damage it suffered on Wednesday, Times ran an apology in 8 oclock news bulletin on its radio and TV station. Times has also published the apology on front page in today’s edition of The Daily Times
The disgraced media house claims the publication of the caption violated the company’s editorial policy of not leaning towards any political party.
However media experts have questioned the sincerity of the apology.
They observe that the publication of that caption was never an accident as, in a proper editorial set up at a big media house like Times, no material goes on a page without going thorough editorial vetting process.
Further, analysts say Times’ argument that they have an editorial policy to be independent of any political interests weakens the apology further as the media house has been evidently partisan towards MCP in its reporting.
Various commentators on social media have reminded Times that while the main story in the past few weeks has been that of bitter public infighting in MCP, Times has not covered the conflict.
Instead it has been taking Chakwera and Sidik Mia sides while running commentaries that slur MCP deputy president Richard Msowoya and his faction.
Meanwhile, the Kamuzu Banda family who owns the media house are reported to be bitterly displeased with management at Times for promoting Mia and stocking divisions in MCP. The family is part of the fight to boot out Chakwera and Mia and reclaim the lost glory of the party by installing Ken Kandodo, nephew to former President Kamuzu Banda to lead Malawi Congress Party.
Times has also been suffering a serious image crisis owing to financial mismanagement by its bosses, huge debts with banks, unpaid taxes, unpaid pensions of its employees, underpaying and mistreating its journalists.
Times Group has lately suffered an exodus of journalists with the highest number of resignations in one year. Between February 2017 and January 2018, Times has lost 18 journalists to resignation. Some of its finest journalists resigned only on a matter of principle as they did not want to be dragged into partisan politics contrary to their professionalism.
The last resignations are being expected from Innocent Chitosi who is rumoured to be heading for Rainbow TV and Madalitso Musa who had posted on his facebook page his parting shot: “ These have been some good 8 years. Cultured men live and leave with honour and pride. Leave a plave better than you found it.”