Malawi, January, 16th, 2018 (Andrew Kaufa). Even though SIGNIS was established in 2001 as a fusion of UNDA and OCIC, its history in Malawi is traceable as a bottom-up movement arising from some young, enthusiastic, Catholic journalists such as Felix Mponda, Francis Chikunkhuzeni and Richard Chide in 1991. In that year, these young Catholic journalists attended a conference in Dar e Salaam, Tanzania, organized by the International Association of Young Journalists.

This Conference was rather providential since 1992 is when Malawi began to experience a wind of social and political change from one political party to multiparty democracy after the Catholic bishops had written a pastoral letter entitled, Living Our Faith. This pastoral letter condemned the dictatorial and oppressive government of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda and the Malawi Congress Party, urging him to let Malawians enjoy their human rights such as freedom of association and political opinion. At that time, Malawi needed some courageous journalists who could facilitate the uprising that resulted into the democratization of the country.

After the 1992 pastoral letter, Fr Piergiorgio Gamba, who was the director of Montfort Media, found it necessary to unite these young journalists under what was called the Malawi Catholic Journalists (MACAJO). At that time, Mr John Loga, himself Catholic and a prolific writer but retired, became the patron of MACAJO. The Catholic bishops, through the Episcopal Commission of Malawi’s National Communications Secretary endorsed the association and its activities. Unfortunately, as some founding members began to die while others grew in age and responsibilities, the enthusiasm faded away, MACAJO became defunct. But, in 2008, a new initiative came when Catholic journalists approached the Episcopal Conference to ask for authorization to revive MACAJO under a new name, ‘Association of Catholic Journalists (ACJ). Obviously, the Bishops endorsed the Association and has now almost 100 members countrywide.

SIGNIS membership in Malawi is championed by the ECM’s National office, hence comprising of all the 8 Diocesan Social Communications Departments 4 Catholic radio stations (Radio Maria Malawi, Radio Alinafe, Radio Tigabane, and Tuntufye FM), 2 print houses (Montfort Media and Likuni Press) and 1 television station (Luntha Television).

SIGNIS activities

Nowadays, the major activities of SIGNIS in Malawi, have been facilitating training of various groups such as seminarians and Religious men and women, the staff in Catholic media houses and pastoral workers in various dioceses. For instance, in 2015 and 2016, the Diocesan Social Communications Secretary of the Dedza brought together nuns and priests from all deaneries for workshops on media literacy.

In 2015, through the National Communications Department of ECM, all Catholic media owners came together to discuss matters of pastoral and national interest, and to plan together various activities including how to celebrate together the World Communications Sunday. Furthermore, there have been several workshops conducted at national and diocesan levels, on how our traditional media houses can leverage the new and social media – particularly the Twitter, Youtube and Facebook.

Through the National office, it is thanks to SIGNIS that the Association of Catholic Journalists is now back to life. The office facilitated a number of meetings in various dioceses, calling upon all professional Catholic journalists to come together at diocesan and national level. In 2016, these efforts reached a climax when for the first time in seven years, an Annual General Meeting was organized.

What’s the future?

The association is now taking the right direction and is becoming more and more an association of professionals. However, what strikes is the fact that it is still more an association of ‘journalists’ than of ‘communication media professionals’.  It is time to expand the vision of what SIGNIS actually is by making it more inclusive so that all Catholic professionals in radio, film, television and the new and social media technology feel at home to be called members of the association. Furthermore, the ACJ and other media houses should consider becoming members so that Malawi has more than one SIGNIS member – each contributing in a unique way to the association.