“Rights conflict: The Zion Church case”

Date: August 15, 2012
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Name: Rights conflict: The Zion Church case

Name of publication/media:
Zodiak Broadcasting Station

Name of journalists: Teresa Temweka Ndanga and Desireee Buitenbos

Date: 10 February 2012

Country: Malawi

Theme: Children, religion

Skills: Perspective, sources and use of data

Genre: Features

Gem classification: Gender aware

Reduction of infant and maternal mortality rates are among the indicators of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Malawi. This calls for easy accessibility of proper medication of toddlers and pregnant mothers. However some religious groupings in Malawi continue to deny their followers from accessing medical care in the name or religion. Innocent lives that could be saved through proper medication are lost. This media highlight analyses a radio feature story – “Rights conflict: The Zion Church case” published on Zodiak online.

Considering the nature and environment (country) in which this whole matter is unfolding, the headline is relevant to the article. Apart from being guaranteed by human rights principles, freedom of (religious) belief is also backed by the country’s constitution. This means that the belief of Zion Bata Church would be viewed as an exercise of their (church members) right. However, the church’s belief directly impinges on the rights of children’s rights hence the headline “Rights conflict: the Zion Church case”.

The article uses eight sources – four females and four males. The article is gender aware considering the nature and gender balance of sources. In addition, the article made reference to authoritative and relevant organisational sources, documents and human rights instruments to concretise arguments made in it. These include Save the Children – an organisation that advocates for children’s rights, an extract from MDGs and a 2010 Act on Child Care, Protection and Justice. The article further used numerous statistics and testimonial evidence to show the gravity of not accessing medical care. This did not only give the article a human face but further made it more credible. However, the article used anonymous sources in the article a thing which could have been avoided. For instance, the article cited population based studies without mentioning the researcher(s) and when it was conducted.

Overall, the article uses gender neutral language.

Story angle/perspective
Condemning the belief of Zion Bata Church is an overall impression that stands out in the article. Since the article is focussing on children, the writers began with interviews from two girls belonging to the church who spoke in support of their belief. An interview from church leader, Inspector Jamieson Ofesi followed next. All of the above sources were meant to show that children and any other members of the church are not allowed to access medical care. The above interviews were followed by a series of condemnations on the church’s belief. In order to “objectively” condemn the church, the writers made use of authoritative sources. The sources include a traditional leader, a district health officer, Malawi Human Rights Commission Executive Secretary and a child rights activist. Arguments raised by these sources were further beefed up by secondary sources that oppose or contradict the practice. These included Save the Children, 2010 Act on Child Care, Protection and Justice and an extract from MDGs.

However, the article is missing the voices of government authorities on the issue. This church, according to this article, is in breach of The Child Care, Protection and Justice Act of 2010. Since no one is above law, the reporters could have asked government officials on whether they will put to course a law on church leaders who have disobeyed it.

While Inspector Jamieson Ofesi represents the voice of men/fathers in the church, the writers could have also interviewed women/mothers to give their side of the story. Women are directly affected with children’s health hence a need to have their voices featured in the article.

Visual images
The article made use of five photos. Of all the photos, the second photo is more relevant to the article. The photo is showing a boy with scars in his legs that might have come about because of not accessing medical care. This picture reinforces the article making it more credible. However the rest of the pictures were irrelevant. For instance, a picture of women singing in the church was used yet no female church member was interviewed in the article.

Training exercise
– How do multiple sources make the story more credible as opposed to a single sourced?
– Including women’s voices in the media is not only professionally correct but it is the right thing to do. Discuss this statement from a human rights and development communication point of view.

Other training resources
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child



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