and media
environment was
the vigorous push
for the enactment of
ATI legislation by the media sector under the leadership of MISA Malawi and
the Media Council of Malawi (MCM). In
a coordinated and strategic effort, the
print and electronic media simultaneously ran articles and news bulletins
spanning over a week, to press the Peter
Mutharika administration to enact the
ATI Bill, as promised during the 2014
In addition, the media provided platforms for Malawians to freely discuss
policy preferences, suggest solutions
to national or community problems,
and debate a range of issues, including crime, corruption, access to justice,
food security, minority rights, power
outage, sanitation and climate change.
The media was also instrumental in exposing social injustices and abuse of
power and public resources.
The year under review was a period of
contestation between the state and activists – which included the media, as
civil society challenged government
and questioned its ability to improve
the wellbeing of Malawians. With continued economic decline, civil society
organizations planned demonstrations
highlighting the poor performance of
the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)
in terms of social, economic and political governance. Media articles on the
demonstrations also focused on apparent lack of focus and lack of direction by
the government in running the affairs of
the country. The articles openly quizzed


So This is Democracy? 2015

government to explain its apparent lack
of seriousness and political will to adhere to its own austerity measures to reduce expenditure. This, attracted the ire
of government, which accused the media of being political and partisan.
The year under review also witnessed ordinary citizens being arrested, charged
and fined for insulting the president. All
these developments occurred while the
Malawi Constitution provides for media
freedom, freedom of expression and
right to information.

Outdated legislation used to
restrict free speech
Existing anti-free speech laws were systematically employed to suppress free
speech. Colonial legislation that inhibits freedom of speech continues to be
applied by the state to curtail media
freedom and freedom of expression. By
their very nature, the laws instill fear
and self-censorship of the media compromising the media’s role to promote
public accountability.
The most common law the state applies
is Section 181 of the Penal Code which
states that “Every person who in any
public place conducts himself in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace
shall be liable to a fine of K50 and to
imprisonment for three months.”
Several people have been arrested,
charged and convicted based on this
section for apparently insulting the President. Most of the cases go unreported
but MISA Malawi noted a growing intolerance of free speech in the country
and called upon President Arthur Peter
Mutharika to distance his administration
from the arrests which were tarnishing
the image of his government.

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