The story out there is that Times media company is being persecuted. But the moment you walk into the Times newsroom and see the long history of where Malawi is coming from, then you come to understand the truth.
In fact, at least two Western powers have been bluffed and tempted into considering to use their taxpayers’ money to bail out Times from its tax, pension and bank debts.
Buy what you find inside Times is a different story. What you find inside the Times newsroom is deep frustration and disenchantment among reporters aggrieved by poor conditions of service, loss of professional direction and a management that brandishes a whip of dictatorship over its employees.
There is rare freedom of expression at Times, which is strange for a media house that champions freedom of expression. You cannot write a story that you believe in professionally if it is not politically correct.
Innocent reporters are every day dressed down for presenting a story that goes against the political satisfaction of the managers, even if what the reporter is presenting is the truth. Reporters feel bullied and often cowed into submission just to keep their jobs.
This dictatorship has a history. Times was initially a Government newspaper. At the height of dictatorship, Kamuzu Banda appropriated and turned it into a family business. Times is in fact a baby of corruption, stollen public property.
Since then, Times was used to defend a 30 year long dictatorship that butchered many Malawians, sent many missing, burnt entire villages and victimised many children whose fathers opposed the Malawi Congress Party dictatorship. And Times was very much part of this heinous ideology and its horrors.
One thing on record is that when Malawians fought for democracy, Malawi Congress Party refused. Their propaganda was that “multiparty democracy is war”. Times was used to fight democracy. Now that skeleton of dictatorship is raring its ugly head as the Times newsroom is increasingly proving that the spirit of this media company is not democratic.
This is not just the story of roots and ownership of what they still call “Kampani ya Kamuzu” (Kamuzu’s Company). This is also a story of a media house that has always been an intellectual apparatus of dictatorship.
For some time, the bullying tactics of the managers have been too obvious in the newsroom. “We have an agenda” and bring back “a Times story” has been the song of the Editor-in-Chief in the recent months.
And so, a reporter does his story on what he believes to be the truth but the editors twist it beyond the ethics.
This is what many reporters cannot understand. “We are being used for an agenda we don’t know,” one reporter said.
“If I am sued, I will produce in court the exact story that I wrote and submitted,” another reporter said. “It is our names that are used to drive a political agenda that is not ours.”
Now it has even become a crime to feature positively on Times TV any Malawian who is deemed to belong to the ruling party.
What is particularly painful to most reporters is that their conditions of service are diplorable.
Employees who retired some years ago are put on year to year contracts because their retirement package is not available at Old Mutual pension scheme. Times cannot afford to pay pensions of its retired employees because management has not been remitting the pension premiums it deducts from the employees.
Interns are paid as low as K50 000.00. This is the same salary paid to drivers who have travel daily from Blantyre to Lilongwe and Mzuzu every day to keep the newspaper in circulation.
The take home for many reporters is less than K100 000. A payslip for one of the reporters shows a basic salary of K115 000 translating into a netpay of K73 225.00.
But these are reporters bearing the triple burden of writing for the newspaper, TV and radio every day.
One hard working reporter was paid a net of just about K100,000. He resigned. And when he did, a top manager drove to his home to offer him K400,000. He refused and left for Story Workshop.
And now, many reporters want to leave.
Some are prepared just to quit even if it means being jobless. They cannot bear the tyranny, the politics and the diplorable conditions any more.
But Malawi is a country where the media does not report it’s own scandals. And so, the inside story of Times remains unspoken while the voiceless journalists suffer in silent oppression.