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MY TAKE ON IT; Sexual misconduct: Truth and justice must prevail at all times

Sexual misconduct: Truth and justice must prevail at all times. There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard. –Anthony Roy

Time magazine on Wednesday December 6, 2017, named “The Silence Breakers,” representing people who came forward to report sexual misconduct, as its Person of the Year (POTY).
According to the United Nations, 1 in 3 women have been sexually harassed in the workplace. And only 29% report it. 65% of women have experienced street harassment, with 23% being sexually touched, 20% followed, and 9% forced to do something sexual. #BreakTheSilence.
Following the TIME POTY announcement, actress Alyssa Milano, the person who first encouraged women to come out and tell their stories/experiences with sexual harassment, sexual assault, groping, unwanted physical contact or sexual misconduct in the workplace tweeted: “It’s unacceptable that we are living amid an epidemic of violence against women and girls, still governed by institutions that are predominantly male. What are we going to do to ensure our daughters are safe? How will we break the cycle of repressing & hurting women?”

It is with deep regret that we reported on Tuesday this week, of the stepping down of the Nyasa Times Editorial Director Thom Chiumia, following allegations of sexual misconduct that we first reported on November 26, 2017.

The news of Chiumia’s stepping down from the online news organization, which in the past ten years he’s made a household name, came from Nyasa Times Managing Director Edgar Chibaka, who informed the public of Chiumia’s arrest in Yorkshire, UK, interview by Police and who remains under investigation following the defilement allegations. In the previous news report outlined how Chiumia and his wife attended an event and that while the event was still in progress, Chiumia returned to the house without his wife and raped the babysitter. She is 17 years old, and by international standards, is a child, a minor.

Needless to say, this is a major bombshell to the Malawi media, which in the past two months has carried the various colors of high-profiled sexual misconduct cases in US entertainment and political arena.

I was caught in a great web of the big “what-to-do,” when I received on my desk the report that my colleague and dear friend Thom Chiumia had been arrested and was in police custody in the UK. The charge of rape (or defilement since the girl in question is an under-aged child) carries a 5-8 years prison sentence if found guilty.
The article on my desk was complete with details of how Thom had gone on an outing to the Mobo Awards function with his wife, leaving his children in the care of the 17-year old babysitter.

Do I spike the article, thereby defending the integrity of a long-time friend, or do I step in and defend the rights of the child (a 17-year person is by international standards, a child), and report without fear or favor the truth, and thereby, let justice prevail?

thom chiumia
thom chiumia

A conference call was held with the reporting team, who was asked to verify and re-check the facts; knowing that a lot was at stake in publishing the article: a man’s life, job and reputation on the one hand; and the life and health of a child on the other. I wanted to ensure that when the article is published, there are credible sources and who can stick to it, having thoroughly checked and counter-checked.

Once it was established that the sources were credible and collaborated, the article was cleared and published in Maravi Post. The survivor of Chiumia’s act, is a minor and rape of minors can carry a prison sentence, once convicted of five to eight years. Although we are in no way dealing the guilty verdict, the allegation is a reprehensible one, any way one looks at it.

Maravi Post carried the news article followed by mention of it in Friday’s My Take On It column titled “Men lose jobs for sexual misconduct as more women speak up.” In addition to this, the Managing Editor, who is also the Publisher, reposted the previous October 20, 2017 article, titled “Following cue from Alyssa Milano #Me too,” in which I had catalogued my own personal experience with a top brass sexual harassment during my employment as deputy editor of Malawi News. When I tried to get management to investigate it, I was reprimanded for having involved the chairman of the company. The reprimand was so severe with “you should never do anything wrong again…” message attached. I was compelled with such a reprimand, to resign.

Following the Maravi Post report of Chiumia’s arrest, the Malawi media was visibly super quiet. As recent as Sunday December 3, 2017, I asked my reporting team in Malawi what of the Chiumia story? The team informed me that the British High Commission in Lilongwe refused to comment because this was a private individual. This of course, is not true because Chiumia is a foreigner who has committed a crime on British soil – yes, the High Commission should have a statement.

Media-wise, except for a flurry of social media opinions with lengthy heated chats, it was really “all quiet on the Malawi media front.”

Monday December 4, 2017 changed all this when Nyasa Times reported that Managing Editor Thom Chiumia had stepped down. This is commendable, seeing that if he is to go down, the media outlet should not be drawn into the fall. For that I salute my friend and colleague Thom Chiumia.

But on Malawi media silence on the story (by Monday, no newspaper had reported on the development, except Maravi Post and Malawi24), one would ask who is Thom Chiumia? Why the quiet by all media houses in Malawi? Why is he being protected, is he a demigod?

Thom Chiumia shot to Malawi’s media limelight in 1993 as one of three-star reporters team of the Mirror – the weekly newspaper owned by then United Democratic Front (UDF) top gun Brown Mpinganjira.

Under the management of Brian Ligomeka (current Editor of Daily Times), Chikumbutso Mtuumodzi (former Bingu wa Mutharika Press Officer, former Chief Information Officer), the Mirror became another mouthpiece of the UDF pressure group in 1993, and continued splashing the Malawi media platform with a bombardment of articles, mostly unverified in the run up to the 1994 general elections.

But while Ligomeka trekked to mainstream media and joined the Times Group after the general elections, Mtuumodzi and Chiumia attached themselves to UDF political figures. This stage of their lives is mostly remembered when in a spat with gender activist and head of Civil Liberties Committee(CILIC) Emmie Chanika, led to the two to physically attack her, pushing her to the ground in full view of reporters.

Despite the incident being reported in the media, the two were never charged; the waters having been muddied by then UDF strong man Dumbo Lemani, who said he too had a counter charge of assault against Chanika.

As Mtuumodzi inched his way up the new DPP hierarchy, his friend Thom surfaced in the UK and began writing for the Nyasa Times news outlet, for a long time the sole Malawi online news media. The media outlet waxed lyrical and claimed a niche for publishing news, often scandalizing government departments and officials, and private citizens and corporations.

It is not a secret that Nyasa Times is a giant online news media outlet, and a source of information and entertainment. It is loved as much as it is hated.

The face of Thom Chiumia is associated with much of the organization’s success. That said, this does not give anyone a passport to commit offences. As the saying goes, and all media support this crucial tenet of democracy, no person is above the law.

This is neither a media war between the outlets I represent, nor am I being unsympathetic in the predicament Thom finds himself in. However, as media we have always said we need to police ourselves before we go out and mow the unkempt grass on our neighbour’s front yard, when ours is littered with weeds, tall grass and other things.

Let justice and truth prevail, let them prevail swiftly, and let these prevail with the greatest fairness and treatment by the media.

Janet Karim
Janet Karim
Author, high school Learning Disabilities Teacher, candidate Master of Education Special Education, Mason University; highly organized, charismatic and persuasive Communications Specialist and accomplished Journalist, Editor with 41 years in the communications field, offering expertise in all phases of print, broadcast, telecast, and social media productions. Enthusiastic story teller. Highly-motivated and trained media professional possessing exceptional writing and editing skills with ability to draft engaging and effective content; Opinion column contributor for leading national dailies (Maravi Post - 2015-PRESENT; Nation Malawi - 2015-PRESENT; Times Malawi (2004-2007). Other areas of expertise include grant writing and NGO project management. Highly trained in international, regional and local lobbying and election skills. Collaborates with international companies to initiate development policy change and foster public awareness, with deep commitment to social justice and health care equity; especially in work towards women's political, economic, and social empowerment; ending child, early and forced marriage; and promoting the human rights of the elderly. Advocate for highlighting climate change its effects on the planet. International development work experience with the United Nations headquarters (10 years, and two years UNDP field work); field experience (Malawi) - Oxfam, UNDP, UNICEF and UNESCO. Superb public speaker who communicates effectively with target audiences through strategic one-to-one or large audiences, expert in event planning and PR campaigns. Conscientious, diplomatic, and tactful in all communicationsg.
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