Advocates Differ on Status of Malawi’s Media Freedom
Media advocates have expressed diverse views on the accusations that the government is stifling freedom of the media in Malawi, and that the acts are having a bearing on the country’s democracy.
This came Thursday as the world celebrated International Day of Democracy with a theme focusing on the importance of media freedom to democracy, peace and attainment of sustainable development goals.
Chairperson of the Media Institute for Southern Africa MISA Malawi Chapter Tereza Ndanga feels the government is limiting media freedom, citing revocation of licenses for some media houses by the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA).
Recently, MACRA revoked licenses for some media houses for failing to pay their license fees, which according Ndanga impinges media freedom.
She suggests that MACRA should have sat down with the media houses to establish the reasons why they are failing to pay their license fees and that revocation should have been the last option.
“At a time where we are seeing license revocations of radio stations, however the justification, yes, it is based on law and we are not saying broadcasters should not be paying their license fees but we are saying that there are a number of factors the regulator needed to consider before these license revocations,” she challenged.
She said the closure of radio stations is tantamount to stifling the right to free speech because radio is the widely used source of information in Malawi.
However, Chairperson of the Media Council of Malawi Wisdom Chimgwede says media houses must always operate according to the law and approach MACRA if they have challenges.
“There are broadcasters who stayed over four years without paying license fees and without going to MACRA to explain that they had challenges.
“Yes, there is also a goof on the part of MACRA for staying that long without ensuring that they get to the broadcasters to ensure that they are living their mandate so stifling the freedom of the media in this particular case in my view has got two problems from both parties," he added.
On the International Day of Democracy, local activists also discussed inference by media owners into the work of journalists.
Chimgwede said it is an issue of serious concern that is compromising ethics and media independence.
“A good number of media owners are politicians and that makes them put their political interest first before looking at the profession that the industry needs. We always call upon media owners to ensure they employ professional people and leave them to run the show,” he said.
Meanwhile, information minister, who is also government spokesperson, Gospel Kazako says discussions are underway to ensure that media houses are operating according to the law and that the regulator does not operate in a way that would stifle media freedom.
Kazako admitted that the Tonse Alliance government benefited a lot from media freedom during the campaign time, saying it cannot, therefore, attempt to nip free speech.
“It is an issue that is being looked into and all the stakeholders are aware of the discussions that are going on to make sure that we find a common solution where the law has to work but at the same time making sure that we are creating a conducive environment for the media to thrive in this country,” he explains.
Recently UNESCO reported an 85 percent decline in press freedom in the world for the past five years with 455 journalists killed in the line of duty between 2016 and 2021.