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THE MALAWI POLYTECHNIC Bachelor of Arts in Journalism Programme Weekend Programme Year II JULY 2013 History of Mass Media

a in Malawi




PRESENTATION TITLE: Media Markets in Malawi: Why Malawis Print Media has refused to Grow

INTRODUCTION Despite Malawi now enjoying 20 years of multiparty democracy, free press and enterprise freedom, Malawis print media industry remains very limited and dominated by only two major media houses; Blantyre Newspapers Limited (BNL) and Nation Publications Limited (BNL). Other newspaper and magazine publishers also exist but the circulation of their publications are very restricted and marginal compared to BNL and NPL titles. Although many newspapers emerged on the market at the dawn of multiparty democracy around 1993, only a few have managed to survive and still appear on the street. While BNL has been around for many years dating back to the colonial era, NPL on the other hand appeared on the scene with the winds of change and emergence of multiparty politics 1993 and is now the only private newspaper publisher from that category that has survived and grown into a viable commercial entity. This presentation attempts to explore trends in the Malawi newspaper market since 1993 and establish why the Malawi market has failed to nurture a variety of newspapers on the street despite the existence of relative media and enterprise freedom in the country. THE LANDSCAPE The beginning of Malawis modern newspaper industry can be traced back to the period between 1991 and 1994 when the winds of change blew across Malawi and saw a mushrooming of newspapers mostly weeklies, which gave voices to alternative political views as political dissent and pressure groups were emerging (Chitsulo & Manganda 2011). These included the City Star, Michiru Sun, The Financial Times, UDF News, The Independent, The Malawi Democrat, The

Monitor, The Enquirer, The New Express, The Nation and several others. Others have kept coming and going over the years and include, but not limited to, The Mirror, The Tribute, the National Agenda, The Malawian, The Courier, The Dispatch, The Democratus, The Guardian, Sky News etc. The Montfort Press also still runs various publications, including Mkwaso newspaper, Together and The Lamp magazines while Pride Magazine, owned by a journalist and entrepreneur John Saini, continues to keep the commercial magazine market alive. However, it is the publications under BNL and NPL that currently control the local newspaper market. BNL publications include The Daily Times, The Malawi News, the Sunday Times, the Weekend Times and The Business Times while NPL titles comprise The Nation (daily), Weekend Nation, Nation on Sunday and Fuko a vernacular paper which is distributed freely in rural areas. The dominance by the two giant publishing companies has made the Malawi newspaper market oligopolistic as the two companies compete as well as corporate with each other as evidenced by their common timing whenever they are changing cover prices for their papers. Prices for their newspapers are also uniform. NEWS AS A BUSINESS News is considered as a good or a commodity just like any product which is sold in a market. Print media content, in particular, is sold at a price to consumers in Malawi just like any commodity (Kanyangwa and Mkwaila 2011). Like any business, survival of newspapers as commercial entities is subject to standard business practices which included assessment of viability prior to investment, sound business plans, injection of good capital, competent

governance and management structures, skilled personnel, appropriate product marketing, good business and financial management as well as feasible sustainability and growth strategies. In Malawi, reduction in subsidisation of public mass media organisations operations and entry of private mass media firms have led to treatment of news as a commodity which is sold in a market in order to raise enough revenue and profit in a competitive business environment (Kanyangwa and Mkwaila 2011). This means that unlike in the colonial and one party era when media establishments were funded by the church and the government, the emergency of political and market liberalisation meant that the media also saw the entry of private players who had to run their businesses and survive based on pure business principles. Kanyangwa and Mkwaila argue that mass media organisations are required to embrace business logic in order to raise revenue and profit so that they survive and strive in a competitive business environment. For newspapers, that means investment into equipment, human resources and systems that would enable the produce quality and credible content that would attract more readers and buyers of their newspaper products. The Theory of the Circulation Spiral (Furhof as cited by Gustaffson in 1978) the wider the newspaper circulates, the more advertisers in attracts. Major newspapers attract more advertisers and therefore more readers over time and therefore again more advertisers, and again more readers in a spiral that consolidates their footing and eliminates smaller and new entrants on the market. Picard (1989) argues that media organisations are unique because they function in a dual market.

In the first market, the media particularly newspapers, produce media content and sell them to consumers while in the second market, they sell audience attention to advertisers. In their 2005 academic paper titled Newspapers market shares and the theory of the circulation spiral, J.J. Gabszewicz, P.G. Garella and N. Sonnac agree that some costs of printing a newspaper have to be recovered through advertising income. They also argue, however, that large populations have the power to support survival of various newspapers in a market. In a sense, a large mass seems to be a necessary condition for pluralist a diversified press. (Gabszeicz et al).

In Malawi, the percentage of the population which is literate and has enough disposable incomes is also considered a major factor to the business of newspapers. NEWSPAPER WOES IN MALAWI Tens of newspapers have graced the streets of Malawi since 1992 but most of these have since folded (Kanyangwa & Mkwaila, 2011). As a result, the newspaper market in Malawi is highly oligopolistic in nature dominated by two main firms: BNL and NPL. Print media products circulating in Malawi also include both local and foreign magazines but very few of these have gained widespread recognition except for availability in leading retail shops in the country such as BP Express and Peoples Super Markets (Kanyangwa & Mkwaila). Reasons for failure of the multiparty newspapers vary but the factor has been cited as lack of business acumen among the pioneer owners who were mostly journalists with no business training of appreciation and lack of or restricted capital. (Chitsulo & Manganda 2011)

At the time, banks could not easily trust to trade with the upcoming newspapers which were seen as a great risk. (Chitsulo & Manganda). The poor development of the print media in general also exposes the weaknesses of the newspaper as a mass medium in a society which has high illiteracy levels. (Chitsulo & Manganda) The newspaper tends to be an elitist medium in that the audience has to afford the cost of the newspaper and be able to read in a foreign language, English. (Chitsulo & Manganda). Even where vernacular papers have some appeal, the audience for such usually those on the lower rung of the socioeconomic ladder cannot afford the cover price. This majority group of people is therefore attracted to radio and television which are more adaptable to vernacular. (Chitsulo & Manganda). For new entrants, Kanyangwa and Mkwaila argue that news organisations consider reputation earned by existing newspaper firms a major deterrent to potential newspaper firms from entering the industry. Research conducted by the Press Network for the 21 st Century (RAP 21) reveals that small newspapers face, among other problems, high production costs particularly in the purchase of newsprint, soaring distribution costs, a weak advertising market and a poor reading culture (RAP 21, 2008). According to the findings in the African Media Barometer Malawi 2012 there has been a slight increase in print media products with the entry of a few specialist magazines but it is still a medium that remains unaffordable for at least 9.5 million Malawians who live below the poverty line and survive on less than US$1 a day. The report findings also state categorically that the medium remains inaccessible considering the 2008 Census which puts

Malawis literacy level in English at 1 percent and very few publications are available in Chichewa and local languages. The cost of daily newspapers, the findings established, and worse still mostly published in English, is too high for the majority of the population at about K250 (US$1) each at the time of its publication earlier this year, although it has now come down to K230 each. It however insists that newspapers in Malawi used to cost K300 before the currency was devalued in May 2012, effectively halving Malawians salaries. When the government removed VAT of 16.5 percent from newspapers in June 2012, their cover price dropped to K250. The African Media Barometer then made comparison, with the cost of a loaf of brown bread which was at K290 then which it said an estimated 62 percent of the 15.4 million Malawian population which live below the poverty line, and surviving on less than US$1 a day while an additional 22 percent are considered ultra poor by the United Nations standards and could not take part in the marketing mathematics for newspaper sale. ( The African Media Barometer) Ironically, the report findings further posits that although Malawi is classified internationally as a low-income country, characterised by high levels of poverty, the advertising market is considered to be large enough to support a diversity of media outlets and advertising currently sustains the media and that there was even room for more media outlets; a total disagreement to Kanyangwa and Mkwailas argument. The other reason why the market has not been jerked into fullthrottle patronisation is what the African Media Barometer says is poor editorial product as it rightly puts: Reporting in Malawi tends to be event driven so there is a lack of in-depth and analytical reporting. Before quickly bringing in another sharp contradistinction that Malawis investigative journalism is on the rise and many of the

corrupt practices that have been uncovered have resulted in top officials being fired. One other area that restrict the newspaper market to flourish is the legislation which still haunts the media statutes like the Printed Publications Act, 1947 (Act 18 of 1947) which governs the print media besides providing for the registration of newspapers with the Government Archivers; Censorship and Control of Entertainments Act, 1968 (Act 11 of 1968) which regulates the pre-approval of content that is distributed to the public and which provides for the regulation of entertainment productions as well as Official Secrets Act, 1913 (Act 3 of 1913) which protects official state secrets against disclosure; does not give would be newspaper investors any breathing space. The best example of such fears to invest is when on 29 October 2010, the government banned the Weekend Times, with immediate effect. The weekly evening tabloid is published by the 100-year-old newspaper group BNL, and famous for exposing fraud and sex scandals involving public figures. (G. Gondwe 2011) The banning order came from the National Archives, and quoted the 1958 Printed Publications Act, which demands that all newspapers be registered and deposit a copy of each of their publications with the National Archives. The ban came after the newspaper had published a story about Mutharikas ally, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. It reported about Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabes alleged trysts with that countrys central bank governor. BNL, however, applied for and received a stay order from the courts that restrained the government from implementing its decision. WAY FORWARD & CONCLUSION The key behind the success of BNL is its long history on the market, a strong business component and robust asset base that makes the media house a bankable project. On the other hand, NPL has benefited from the business and journalistic expertise of Aleke Banda as well as an independent editorial

policy and professionalism that steered the company to survival (Chitsulo & Manganda). The future of the print media, as shown by the Daily Times and The Nation success stories, lies in running entities along business lines, with a clear human resource structure, having independent boards, having independent management teams and duly trained professionals (Chitsulo Manganda). The history of Malawis media also shows that the print media is best run by the private sector rather than government, political parties or religious organisations. It can therefore be argued that a combination of political, economic, social and business factors have resulted into the Malawi newspaper market becoming oligopolistic, which has now made it difficult for new player to enter the market. With the economy still fragile and many people finding new ways of getting news through the Internet and social media, it may take a while and cutting edge innovation for the future of Malawis newspaper market to look different than the present. Perhaps, the media investment have been wrongly done perhaps, although there are two daily newspapers in Malawi, both privately owned and published in English: The Daily Times and The Nation. And considering that there are six privately owned weekly newspapers, two of which are published in English and Chichewa (Malawi News and Weekend Nation), while the fortnightly Fuko Nation is published in the indigenous languages, Chichewa and Tumbuka perhaps there is still room in the vernacular market. Mkwaso Newspaper published in Chichewa by the Catholic Church which emerged on the market in the last two years is yet to break even. In Nigeria, the Yoruba language newspaper Alaroye, is an unqualified success (Kishindo 2009) because the Yoruba grassroots see it as not only their mouth peice but also an

organ that could save them from intimidation and harassment of the might. (Alao Adebayo 2006). Perhaps time is now ripe to take advantage of the sector that competently read Chichewa to have a serious weekly or daily newspapers publishing strictly in Chichewa. The Alaroye has with time popularised reading of Yoruba Newspapers a month the folk and has the largest indigenous language newspaper circulation figure of not less than 150,000 per week (Kishindo 2009).

REFERENCES 1. African Media Barometer Malawi 2012, The First Home Grown analysis of the media landscape in Africa, Windhoek, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) fesmedia Africa

2. Chitsulo, E. & Manganda, G. 2011 Origins, Development and Management of the Newspaper Industry in Malawi, Journalism Practice in Malawi: History, Progress and Prospects. Blantyre, BP&P

3. Kanyangwa, M & Mkwaila, S. 2011 Media Markets and Commodification of News, Journalism Practice in Malawi: History, Progress and Prospects. Blantyre, BP&P

4. Gabszewicz, J.J., Garella, P.G. & Sonnac, N. 2005 Newspapers market shares and the theory of the

circulation spiral, Paris, University of Bologna (unpublished)

5. Kishindo, Pascal, 2009, Use of Indigenous Languages in Malawis Media, Paper presented to Lilongwe Press Club Seminar, Mangochi 6. SADC Media Law: A Handbook for Media Practitioners Vol I. A comparative overview of the laws and practice in Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Johannesburg, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung