30 October 2016

Africa: Online Newspaper Nyasa Times Founder Thom Chium On Launching an Online Nyasa TV Channel and the Protection of Being Based in London

African online media has been flourishing over the last three years. But there are many online newspapers like Ghana's MyJoy Online that pioneered the form and have reaped the benefits as Africa has increasingly gone online. Russell Southwood spoke to Nyasa Times Founder Thom Chiumia who launched 10 years ago and has ambitious plans to expand.

Nyasa Times was launched 10 years ago and celebrated this anniversary at the beginning of September:"When I came to this country (UK) we never had a standard of online newspaper. Daily newspaper sites only updated every three weeks. I discussed the idea with my colleagues and decided to roll it out."

Nyasa Times is an online publication providing trending and breaking news on Malawi:"It started as a hobby to bridge the (online) gap. The task was to make it reliable and accurate. We now have an army of reporters in Malawi. With smartphones and social media it becomes easier to file a story. The reporter will brief me about a story and then What's App or email it to me. I then edit and check it before it goes out."

On a normal day, the site attracts up to 2 million uniques and with big news like the death of the President it had considerably more:"As use of the Internet has increased, we've increased the number of readers in Malawi." The main readership outside of Malawi is in South Africa, Nigeria, the UK, the USA, China and Germany.

So what's the business model?:"In the first place we launched as a hobby. We never had much interest in making profits. We are now embracing online advertising and although it doesn't produce much revenue, it does help pay for correspondents in Malawi. It has become my 'day job'. We see ourselves as promoting democracy and freedom of expression."

So what does he have planned over the next 12 months?:"The challenge is to improve the coverage and to move into a platform for video. We have opened a You Tube channel and we want correspondents to take videos. We will also have newscasts and interviews."

"We have an ambitious plan to launch a Nyasa TV channel. We want to start online and move to a conventional TV channel over time. We are very much aware that getting a TV licence is difficult because we want to be critical of the establishment, including the President. It will be difficult but there is always a way. It will be a TV channel like Ben TV."

Chiumia has stayed based in London because it gives him a sense of protection:"Malawi has a bad record of upholding the rights of those who are critical. The advantage of being in the UK is that it gives you protection from this kind of harm."

These threats remain very real for at the end of August this year Malawi's flasgship newspaper reported that State House had embarked on a smear campaign to silence all Malawians it views as critical of the President Peter Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government.

Those being targeted include, writer Stanely Onjezani Kenani, lawyer cum commentator Allan Ntata, Times Group Editor in Chief George Kasakula, columnist Madalitso Musa, Nyasa Timers editor and 'Loose Cannon' columnist Thom Chiumia, Times TV host Brian Banda, journalist Idriss Ali Nassah and economist Henry Kachaje.

The Daily Times also picked up on an earlier Nyasa Times report that these attacks, included the creation of fake Whatsapp conversations and other dirty tactics. State House will use its tax-funded blogs, malawiindependent.blogspot.com, malawibrief.com, malawivoice.com and blantyrepost.com.

It will use the blogs to manufacture false stories "that aim at destroying the repurtation of its targets", the Daily Times reported. Daily Times reports that three weeks ago ruling DPP regional governor for the south, Charles Mchacha asked President Mutharika to allow the party to use its youth militia known as the 'Cadets' to silence the President's critics.

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