Strengthened Media Capacity on Social Accountability Yielding Positive Results
By Wales Chigwenembe (ActionAid Malawi) & Khazike Sakala (PSAM)
The media is one of the target groups of the Partnership for Social Accountability Alliance (PSAA) and it plays a crucial role in holding the government and other institutions of society accountable. It is often referred to as the fourth estate because it acts as a watchdog, by monitoring the activities of the other three branches of government – the executive, legislative, and judiciary. The media provides a platform for citizens to voice their concerns and raise awareness about issues affecting their lives. It also helps to expose corruption and other forms of wrongdoing, providing valuable information to the public and holding those in power accountable for their actions. Through investigative journalism, the media can uncover hidden agendas and bring to light issues of public interest.
The PSA Alliance project in Malawi understood that media is an essential stakeholder in their accountability work, and not just as a source for news. As a result, the project formed a team of investigative journalists with vast experience (5-23 years), including men and women from both print and electronic media. The team’s diverse backgrounds ensured a more comprehensive platform for achieving the project’s goals. The team was oriented on the PSA Alliance project’s objectives and the PSAM approach to social accountability monitoring (SAM), and they worked together with the project team to identify and thereon undertake investigative projects on various issues of social accountability. Their focus was primarily on health and agriculture, where they regularly brainstormed to find ways to hold stakeholders accountable.
“I am glad it also deals with community radio stations and am positive it will help them get better at reporting as well.
I am so proud to say ActionAid, through this project has linked me to various stakeholders on the ground and it links me to the right people on the ground. Community radio stations on the ground raise the red flags for me, they tell me where to go or where not to go.”
Ms. Josephine Chinele – Investigative Journalist (Malawi)
The project team worked with experienced media professionals to explore on ways to engage the media on SAM and learn from previous SAM projects. Instead of targeting media institutions, individual journalists already covering SAM in health and agriculture were identified in Malawi. They formed a national investigative journalism (IJ) SAM team with clear terms of reference and received training on SAM, the human rights-based approach, and IJ and were given the tools to capture stories on the PSA Alliance project focus areas. The team developed investigative story ideas and was supported by ActionAid Malawi with investigation costs. The stories were then published in their respective media institutions. The team received continuous mentoring from identified media experts and connected with relevant SAM stakeholders such as community radios, reflection action circles (RACs), parliament, CSOs, farmer organisations, and government departments.
A significant impact
The IJ SAM team established through the PSA project has made a significant impact in Malawi. Thanks to continuous mentoring from seasoned media experts and links with other relevant SAM stakeholders, the team has been able to publish many reports on PRM issues.
“The PSA Alliance project (and partners) has contributed significantly towards helping me come up with high-quality investigative stories addressing issues in agriculture and health. For example, the story of the missing equipment at a maternity wing at Mkanda Health Facility in Mchinji shed light on the challenges facing the health sector in Malawi, particularly in rural areas. The story highlighted the need for more investment in healthcare infrastructure and resources to improve maternal and child health outcomes… By reporting on these issues, the PSA Alliance and its partners have helped to strengthen the public’s trust in the media and its role in promoting accountability and transparency in society.”
Winston Mwale – Investigative Journalist (Malawi)
Collaborating with targeted communities through RACs, the team’s reports have influenced corrective actions by the government at both district and national levels. These efforts have earned some members of the team and their media institutions several regional and national journalism awards.
The PSA Alliance project’s contribution to these interventions was mainly in mentoring the IJ SAM team and strengthening linkages with stakeholders at all levels. These efforts helped build the team’s capacity on SAM and provided easy access to information.
Thanks to the team’s efforts, the PSA Alliance project has achieved remarkable success in the area of engaging media in IJ for SAM, with their stories shedding light on critical issues that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. The investigative reports provide valuable insights into the challenges faced by communities and help initiate conversations for positive change. The project’s success can be attributed to the team of journalists who were committed to their work and dedicated to making a difference in society.
Overall, the project has been successful in leveraging the media’s role in promoting accountability in Malawi.
“With this project I have gone deeper in getting to the bottom of issues and giving voice to the voiceless. I have done work in Nsanje where I have been able to report on various issues including health governance and IAP (FISP). I have gone through various trainings such as the Virtual trainings and data journalism in Mponela and I have participated in the awards where some stories have won some awards.”
Josephine Chinele – Investigative Journalist (Malawi)
Areas for learning
The project beneficiaries have been an essential part of the success of the project and the reflections shared demonstrate that. There are many ways in which they believe such projects in Malawi and other PSA project countries can be improved.
They (journalist beneficiaries) advise that the PSA Alliance project can strategically arrange and conduct recurring training sessions with the aim of equipping journalists with essential competencies and proficiency to develop high-quality narratives and stories. These carefully curated sessions can encompass a diverse range of topics, such as investigative journalism, fact checking, and media ethics, among others. Moreover, the PSA Alliance project can also proactively facilitate access to crucial resources, including comprehensive datasets and information, research papers, and expertise in relevant fields, to empower journalists in producing well-informed and precise accounts of public resource management issues and mismanagement.
To foster an environment of collaborative learning and growth, the PSA Project can conscientiously organize regular physical or virtual gatherings with journalists and relevant stakeholders, including policymakers, civil society organisations, and subject matter experts. These networking opportunities present a viable avenue for journalists to exchange innovative ideas, receive constructive feedback on their work, and cultivate meaningful relationships that can aid their future reporting endeavours. Further, to facilitate a constant flow of news and story ideas, the PSA Alliance project can adeptly disseminate relevant information on meetings and events organised by other stakeholders through periodic newsletters or updates on their website.
In summary, the PSA Alliance project can strive to provide journalists with requisite resources, comprehensive training, and targeted networking opportunities, all geared towards catalysing the development of high-quality stories with a positive impact on society.