THIS year's National Anti-corruption Day celebrations on February 5 fea¬tured the media as one of the pillars in Anti-Corruption Bureau's (ACB) drive against graft.
During the commemoration, key speak¬ers pointed at the media as a formidable force in the fight against corruption.
Reverend Patrick Semphere, for instance, who spoke on behalf of the Media Council of Malawi, said: "An independent media is one of the fundamental pillars from which responsible governments and sustainable democracies gain their support. Media as the fourth estate plays a pivotal role in holding those in power accountable, expos¬ing abuses of office, controlling corruption and promoting good governance."
Semphere talked about how the media continues to play a fundamental whistle-blowing role with regard to corruption.
Brave investigative journalists, he said, have put their lives at risk, pursuing stories that seek to expose corruption resulting in high-level resignations and withdrawals of tenders or intended purchases, he told the gathering.
He also cited the fact that the 2010 Malawi Governance and Corruption Follow-up Survey rated the media as one of the institutions effectively contributing to the fight against corruption in the country.
The ACB itself, according to Semphere, also claimed that some of the corruption cases it has successfully investigated and prosecuted were through exposure or whistle-blowing by the media.
In his speech, the ACB Director Justice Rizine Mzikamanda said the fight against corruption is not only localised to Malawi.
"The world commemorates International Day against Corruption on December 9... That is the day when the entire world comes together to declare in the loudest voice possible that corruption is a serious social evil and must be stopped," said the ACB director.
In fact, for its own convenience Malawi settled for February 5, which was inaugurated as the National Anti-Corruption Day in 2004.
Mzikamanda said the aim was to bring together people from all walks of life to reflect on the fight against corruption and take stock of the country's achievements and challenges in the past year and chart the way forward.
Without doubt the media has played 'a crucial role in sensitising, reporting and educating members of the public on the evils of corruption. It is the media which has been playing a pivotal role in naming and shaming perpetrators of corrupt acts'.
That said, I feel the media should also take a leading role in concluding the debate about whether or not it is morally right to offer and accept allowances when reporters go to cover functions and press conferences.
How can we talk of the independence of the media when the reporters have a carrot dangling below their nose? How well will the media play their role when they are writing their stories with an 'inducement' from the sponsors or organisers of the functions? These are the questions that the media practitioners, if I may call such, need to answer.
It is funny what forms some of these allowances take. A reporter who goes to cover a function, for example, at 9 o'clock in the morning and returns at say 10 o'clock the same morning is paid a 'lunch allowance'. What sort of lunch is taken at 10 o'clock in the morning?
Sadly, believe it or not, the practice has become so entrenched in the sector so much so that some reporters actually demand it from the organisers of such functions. Desperate to have their functions covered in the media, the organisers are left with no choice but to pay out the allowances.
I often get asked by people and organisations who want media coverage: 'How much does it cost to be covered in the newspapers? How much should we pay the reporter?' My answer has always been: you don't need to pay the reporter; the company already pays them to cover stories.
Of course, I know that the organisers still give the reporters something despite my golden advice.
More often than not, function organisers who fail to pay out the so-called lunch allowances do not see their stories in the media. They are given a blackout so to speak and should they organise another function they hardly get reporters coming to their functions.
A friend of mine in the non-governmental sector one day told me that he had problems justifying paying for media coverage in the budget of his project to his donors. According to him, he had noted that reporters were demanding more to cover their functions citing devaluation and escalating inflation!
The reader might wish to know that the writer is a journalist with years of experience in the media industry and he knows what he is writing about.
Let me finish with this ancient story. People brought a woman who was caught in adultery to Jesus.
"Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The Law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?" they asked Jesus.
In answering them, Jesus stooped and wrote in the dust and said to them: "He who has never sinned before should throw the first stone!"
One by one the accusers slipped away.
Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones, so they say.