World Press Freedom Day: Ndanga Still Bold in Last Days as MISA Chair
The Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter has challenged the government to urgently repeal some laws that impede media freedom, including criminal defamation laws and the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act.
MISA Malawi Chairperson Teresa Ndanga made the call today at a breakfast hosted by President Lazarus Chakwera at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe, where she said the media body has been advocating for civil remedies on issues of defamation as opposed to criminal proceedings.
“When the ACB Director Martha Chizuma was arrested for allegedly defaming the then Director of Public Prosecutions, there was an uproar. Should a defamation crime deserve allocation of hordes of police officers, cars, handcuffing the suspect and all?
“This is exactly what MISA Malawi has been against all this while. Criminal defamation is benefiting the powerful; those in advantaged positions at the expense of the country’s scarce resources,” said Ndanga.
Ndanga decried exorbitant license fees that Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) claims from media houses, telling the president that there is a need for revision and ensuring that media houses are charged in Kwacha [the local currency] not as it is in US dollars.
“Your Excellency, the MISA regional office wrote to your office seeking intervention. Allow me your Excellency, to rather express my disappointment that we never received a response nor an intervention,” explained Ndanga.
She added, “As we speak, 250 journalists lost their jobs. And when we talk about loss of media jobs, we are talking about the limitations that this presents to the enjoyment of other rights such as freedom of expression and access to information.”
However, the MISA chairperson applauded Chakwera and his administration for legislative milestones registered during his time in office, such as repeal of seditious laws and the amendment of the Protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act by removing the name ‘President’ as one of the protected names under the Act.
“That was a very big victory on our side and a very bold stance on your side. Successive governments in Malawi have used sedition charges and the Protected Names Act to restrict freedoms of expression and opinion; and silence critical voices,” observed the daring outgoing MISA-Malawi chair.
Information Minister Moses Kunkuyu committed to continued engagement with the Misa leadership and other stakeholders to address the concerns, saying some bills are on draft stage and other bills are completed in a drive to improve local media laws
President Chakwera pledged that his administration will continue to fulfill and uphold the Constitution of Malawi which provided for the protection of freedom of expression, among other fundamental rights.
In his short speech of about five minutes Chakwera said freedom of expression is not just a right but a sacred responsibility which should be taken seriously.
“And so, I want to assure you today, that so long as I am President, I will continue to fulfil the oath that I took to uphold the constitution of our republic, in which are enshrined all the freedoms and rights we enjoy,
“... and my administration will continue to promote and protect freedom of expression, because this is the driver of your ability as a free press to promote and protect all our other freedoms and rights,” he said.
About 200 journalists took time away from their busy reporting schedules to share some memorable moments with the Malawi leader at the breakfast meeting organized to mark the 30th celebration of World Press Freedom Day.
This year’s World Press Day is being commemorated under the theme ‘shaping a future of rights; freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights’.