Media threats in Malawi cause uproar
Several media institutions have been accused of reporting too negatively about current developments in Malawi politics. Intentions were among others to let Malawi become a failed state in public perception. The State House in Lilongwe as well as DPP Director of Youth, Frank Mwenefumbo, threatened media institutions in Malawi last weekend causing public uproar. Even the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) joined the debate. It asked President Bingu wa Mutharika to distance himself from the words being dropped.
During last weekend a statement released by the State House in the capital city Lilongwe, expressed dissatisfaction about certain media sections in the country both print and internet media publishing insulting news about the Head of State.
His Excellency the State President can not be rated to have poorly governed this country as there is no evidence and basis. It is a pity that some civil society organizations and media houses find demeaning, insulting and accusing the State President as a scoop to merit themselves. It should be obvious that such insults, accusations, derogatory statements and ill comments about our Head of State are but a shame in the eyes of the international community.
In the Malawian Constitution it is indeed laid down in Section 3 (2) of the protected Flag, Emblems and Names that any insulting persons or institutions risk to be arrested.
Any person who does any act or utters any words or publishes any writing calculated to or liable to insult or to show disrespect to or with respect to or with reference to the President…shall be liable to a fine of 1000 pounds and to imprisonment for two (2) years.”
Following the issue of that statement, Blantyre Newspaper Limited (BNL) Chief Editor Brian Ligomeka said that here the specific law has been overstretched.
The State House reacted with its address to ongoing reporting of several media institutions in the country about the personality of the President and his so-called failed presidency. Any cartoons of Bingu wa Mutharika as well as nicknames and insulting headlines were condemned. National Publication Limited (NPL) Deputy CEO Alfred Ntonga responded to these condemnations as follows:
It is a global phenomenon that celebrities and people in high positions are nicknamed and cartooned… Just look at the ears of Barack Obama in a cartoon, you will know what I am talking about.”
DPP Director of Youth threatens civil servants
On Sunday, DPP Director of Youth Frank Mwenefumbo called for a ban of all government officials and departments who read certain newspapers or advertise in them in any way. With these threats he aimed particularly at the Nation Newspaper. He is partly quoted in several articles:
Newspapers have been writing bad things about the DPP and our president instead of reporting on good things. [So] if I see DPP loyalists, be it a minister or a chief executive, reading The Nation newspaper, we’ll suspect them; you should stop that forthwith.
If I see the [Nation] newspaper in your offices [of government departments], we’ll suspect you. Stop buying it! Stop advertising in it. If you want to advertise, you can do that on the internet.”
The Nation publications do not only consist of the Nation Newspaper but also The Weekend Nation, Nation on Sunday and a free community newsletter, called Fuko. According to Anthony Kasunda, chairperson of the Media Institute for Southern Africa Malawi Chapter, these calls of a high positioned DPP official attack the fundamental financial basis of any media house which is of high important for its survival. If the advertisement sector of a media institution is touched, the survival is at risk.
Malawian Diasporans in the U.K.: “Don’t read Nyasa Times!”
While the State House issued its harsh statement in Lilongwe and DPP Director of Youth called upon government and DPP officials, Malawi’s Health and Population Minister Jean Kalirani for her part addressed Malawians living in the U.K. She invited several Malawian diasporans to the Malawi High Commission Office in London to inform them about the current situation in Malawi. She intended to draw a different picture contrary to reports of Nyasa Times. In the course of her speech she criticized Nyasa Times for misrepresenting Malawi and its president’s policies. She further asked the audience to avoid reading Nyasa Times since their reporting would not represent reality. According to a Nyasa Times informant she said:
I am very disappointed to note that there is no one from Nyasa Times here as I want to tell them that we are developing Malawi beyond recognition under the wise leadership of His Excellency Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika.”
MISA Malawi disturbance
According to BIZCommunity, MISA-Malawi chairperson Anthony Kasunda reacted on the State House’s statement as follows:
We are greatly shocked that the highest office of the land could issue such threats to the media as contained in the statement.”
Since the Media Institute Southern Africa (MISA) also has a Malawi Chapter and MISA officials are based in Malawi, it has asked President Bingu wa Mutharika in a statement to distance himself from the past threats that were dropped during the last weekend:
We find the recent order to stop advertising in NPL as well as threats on journalists in general very strange and retrogressive for Malawi’s nascent democracy. Attacks on the media and civil society and human rights defenders in general are attacks on democracy and should not be condoned.
His Excellency the State President openly swore to defend the Constitution and has in the past openly supported media development activities as part and parcel of his development agenda. MISA Malawi is, therefore, requesting President Mutharika to personally distance himself from threats issued by DPP cadres on the media in the country and the Constitution he swore to defend.”
Meanwhile Anthony Kasunda received several threats from unknown persons. One of them says:
You might think (President) Bingu is the only one angry with such reporting but you would be surprised by how much support that State House statement has gained (. . .) Mainly among top bureaucrats in the country. There will be a lot of drama to unfold. But for now don’t get on the NAMISA-MISA bandwagon. Yes united you stand but you are already divided. The top officials already have their people and know how divided you (the media) are. Save yourself while you can. By 2014 (when Malawi will hold general elections) the media will never be the same again.”
The fact that so many different actors joined the media discussion in Malawi shows how explosive the topic of freedom of expression still is in Malawi. It needs to be further observed how the situation develops and if these threats from last weekend finally lead into certain actions and other restrictions in the media landscape of Malawi.