Hacktivate on the BBC

I can hardly believe it myself, but yesterday a BBC World Service reporter emailed me after reading Hacktivate and asked if he could interview me about the food crisis in Malawi. I was pretty freaked out, but assented, particularly after realizing that it was for a pilot program - what that means I still am not sure.
I was at OIBM yesterday so I told them about what was happening and they were excited but also visibly nervous for me. Multiple people warned me from saying too much about the corruption. Good thing most Malawians don't read my blog! I can't decide if their worries are the result of growing up under a dictator that banned men with long hair and the song Cecilia by Simon and Garfunkle not to mention free speech, or if it actually is dangerous to repeat what is already in all of the local newspapers.
It didn't matter anyway, because this wasn't being broadcast in Malawi, and well, lets just say that I have yet to perfect my witty silky smooth radio banter. Talking on the radio is hard!
The whole experience lasted maybe five minutes. The phone rang, I picked it up and Kevin Anderson-Washington, the reporter who had emailed briefly said hello then put me on hold for a few seconds during which I could hear the program in progress, someone else picked up asked me a question and passed me off, then I heard the slick sounding on-air reporter giving the 15 second version about what is happening in Malawi. He finished by saying, "I have Mike McKay from the weblog Hacktivate on with me now. Mike lives in Lilongwe the capital of Malawi. You have known a number of people that have already died from starvation, is that right?" At which point I pretty much choke. Well not quite, but it sure felt like it as I said, "No, I haven't known anyone personally, but my housekeeper's cousin's child died last week." And my uncle's paperboy's step-sister once shook the Pope's hand. Not my best. The host then quickly jumped to a reporter from Blantyre who was much smoother, but only repeated the first paragraph of about every article I have seen on the situation. They came back to me and I was able to talk about the scarcity of maize here in Lilongwe. The host then started talking about corruption and I became nervous. But the commentary was left to the guy from Blantyre and I was asked what I think most Malawians want the world to do for them. It felt like it was a leading question that I wasn't comfortable to answer. I certainly can't speak for many Malawians let alone the ones that are dying. I mumbled something about money and aid, the report was finished (with another mention of Mike McKay from Hacktivate, grin) and they hung up on me.
A few posts ago I highlighted the complexity of the issue and how it doesn't fit nicely into the package that our modern media produces. I think my experience supports this. They wanted to hear a story about a dying child, how the government isn't helping and how we need to send them money. In my perfect world the program would challenge the listener to think critically about a complex issue and the critical thinking would spill over into a discussion during dinner that would then lead to a personal call to action among everyone at the discussion. In fact, I wish my response to the final question could have been more consistent with what I have been writing here, namely that I think the most important thing to do about the situation in Malawi is to bring Africa and the plight of the poor to the forefront of our minds. To discuss it with friends, to examine our own lives relative to theirs, to live in the reality that our world is tiny and our neighbors are dying. Sure, Malawi needs a quick fix of cash to survive the hungry season, but it isn't until we as individuals have compassion for the collective individuals of the world that justice will reign.
It is great that the BBC is taking notice of the situation in Malawi, and tremendously exciting that they are taking notice of me. In an earlier post I mentioned how much power we have as individuals of the developed world in 2005, and I guess I am proving myself true. It is a lot of responsibility though.

7 Response to Hacktivate on the BBC

  1. Robin says:

    Wow, great guns man! You are a media pundit! Great to hear that your blog is having an effect and reaching the right people. The best thing to do with interviews is to ask for the questions beforehand then if they spring a surprise one on you whilst on-air you can respond with something like: "Well, had I known you were going to ask me that I could have prepared an answer, but off the top of my head...". Maybe you should start a podcast and perfect your radio voice?

  2. Mark says:


    I knew you were for the big time ;) A + I were talking just yesterday about how bizarre it is to know (largely through your blog) about the desparation of Malawians, and yet have no sight of it on the almighty beeb. Thank you for your faithful blogging - it helps bring your world a little closer to ours...

  3. [...] October 20, 2005 at 12:06 pm · Filed under family/friends Mike was interviewed on the world service yesterday about his experiences in Malawi [...]

  4. Temwa says:

    Mike, its a relief that the interview din't touch on politics. I will be keeping you updated on any news to do with hunger in the villages. i am sure many children are already suffering from malnutrition due to hunger in villages.

  5. Robin says:

    BTW what show were you on? Is there a URL for it?

  6. nchenga says:

    As you said, it's a good example showing how much influence an individual has. Citizen journalism in action.

  7. Jeff says:

    Mike, I'm so glad I made contact with you again. It sounds like you have been busy. Well done with Hacktivate, it must have been nerve-wracking ... and you're right about the media, they only want sensational stuff (but I guess we must learn to pander to their needs to get the message though)
    Might even meet you one day in LLW

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