If you love watching television, then you should be familiar with the famous series called Judge Judy which have been on our screens for over 20 years. This is an American television arbitration-based reality court series presided over by Judith Susan Sheindlin, a former family court judge.
Back home, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has introduced a similar show called The Court hosted by renowned judicial personnel Esmie Tembenu. It comes every Monday from 6.30pm to 7pm and is repeated on Saturday same time.
The only difference with the American version is that the local programme uses actors, and its judgements are part of the act though they serve to raise awareness about punishments on common crimes while the American version is all reality.
Said Tembenu: “The idea of embracing the media to provide awareness through a court process and procedures started in June last year. After an assessment indicated that there were high numbers of teenage pregnancies and child marriages, rape, defilement following the prolonged holidays as part of Covid-19 preventive measures.”
She said at the time she discovered that Malawi had recorded over 13 000 child marriages and 40 000 cases of teenage pregnancies.
“There were also a number of cases of domestic violence by family members due to restricted movements and everyone was indoors due to the pandemic,” said Tembenu.
The founder of The Court television programme, who prides herself as a natural born activist said having immersed herself in every part of the fight against all types of gender-based violence (GBV), she volunteered to assist to contribute and turn things around by embracing the media in raising awareness.
“My visit to various districts during the 2020 16 days of activism revealed that apart from gender-based violence many Malawians who commit various criminal offences were ignorant of the laws,” she said.
Tembenu said a lot of Malawians were ignorant of laws, human rights, court procedures, other child-related pieces of legislation, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, myths and culture.
“So, we thought, through our organisation Family Rights, Elderly and Child Peotection (Frechip), we would come up with a television programme modelled around Judge Judy and use it to educate Malawians about various laws and crimes,” she said.
Tembenu said the programme which uses real laws and punishments, uses actors just to demonstrate how the law works and consequences of some of the common crimes that Malawians are committing.
The Court uses Tembenu (a retired judicial officer), a trained police prosecutor, a probation officer and a retired court interpreter.
“We did this because the main objective is not to entertain but provide legal awareness to Malawians. We also wanted to air exactly what the law says and how the courts handle various types of cases,” she said.
They then partnered with Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance, the Malawi Police Services and the Ministry of Gender.
“We then asked MBC for free production and airtime which they accepted on condition that we pay for production and airtime whenever we sustained financial support,” said Tembenu who disclosed that currently they use actors from Nkhokwe Arts.
Though they are yet to get sponsorship, the programme is getting more popular by the day as Malawians find it relatable.
The programmes started airing in June and four episodes were sponsored by Masm, but the rest are courtesy of MBC and Tembenu’s personal resources.
“So far so good as we have tackled various issues such as child marriages and defilement. We get feedback from all over the country and we are encouraged. We are just concerned that five months down the line we do not have an official sponsor,” she said.
On her part, Zilanie Khonje of MBC said her organisation is happy to host the programme as it helps educate and inform masses on the court processes, Malawi justice system pertaining to different crimes, rights and responsibilities and of course being entertained.
“We are getting great feedback which is overwhelming as the public shows that it wants to learn more. The Court is becoming one of our flagship programmes,” she said.
Khonje said they also intend to do a survey to assess the impact of such programmes for MBC to improve on the programme or increase its broadcasting frequency.
A fan of the programme Bester Kayambazinthu, a Ndirande resident said he finds The Court entertaining, amusing and educative.
“The programme has it all. It entertains you while teaching you at the same time. I never miss an episode,” he said.
Tembenu is a retired magistrate who rose to prominence when she because a child justice magistrate from 2005 to 2016. Tembenu has received various awards in relation to gender-based violence fight and child protection. After her retirement she founded an organisation called Family Rights, Elderly and Child Protection Trust (Frechip) whose main mission is to help women, girls, older people, children and persons with disabilities who have been abused or exploited.