Access to Information
There was a lot of lobbying for the Access to Information Bill and general sensitisation of
stakeholders, many of who erroneously believed it is meant for the benefit of the media only.
Although the Minister of Information and Civic Education and the Parliamentary Committee on
Media and Communication have openly supported the draft bill, it is still a long way from being
tabled in the National Assembly. The Access to Information Bill is a crucial piece of legislation
enabling scholars, researchers and ordinary citizens to get hold of information necessary for
their work but which officials would normally want to keep under wraps.
The Government has not been proactive in releasing information of public interest, except
where it may be injurious to the reputation of its detractors. For instance, the State House
issued a statement accusing former President Bakili Muluzi of giving aid to Sudanese rebels
while he was in office. The claim was never substantiated nor was it clear in whose interest
this information was being issued.
One piece of excellent reporting where a public institution was forced to eat its words was the
case of the leakage of the 2007 Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations.
The Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb) insisted its security was watertight and no
paper had leaked to the public until The Daily Times published excerpts of as yet unpublished
examination papers. It is not clear what secrecy code the newspaper breached in breaking this

Other legislation
There is greater danger of self-censorship than outside censorship. An excellent example was
the luncheon with President Mutharika. TVM broadcast the conference live, but for whatever
reason, in its evening rebroadcast the station carefully edited out all the questions, leaving the
President giving answers to questions no one knew. TVM was forced to make another rebroadcast in which they took the President out of the vacuum and appropriately provided him with
questions to answer. Most of the censorship we see in the press is of this kind, from overzealous
editors and producers trying to carry favour with the powers that be.
The courts have maintained their independence in dealing with cases involving the media. The
Lilongwe Magistrate’s court ruled against Njobvuyalema in his assault on Kashoti and awarded
Kashoti damages. The MP appealed against the ruling. His conviction could lead to his losing
his seat in Parliament. The appeal is yet to be heard.
The laws governing the licensing of radio and television stations are also unreasonable. The law
under the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) Act forbids dual ownership,
making it impossible for anyone to operate both radio and television. This piece of legislation,
which was originally intended to check on unscrupulous monopoly in media ownership, has had
the undesired effect of blocking potential investors in their tracks. Individual politicians wanted
to perpetuate the myth that they are a cut above ordinary mortals and therefore above the law,
but the courts often trimmed them to size, to the general acclaim of the judicial system.

Macra remains the only regulator and its independence has been challenged by various stakeholders, especially the independent media houses, which have suffered the brunt of its terror.
It is the sole authority that issues broadcast licences and frequencies. There are indications that
Macra would like to see some of its draconian regulations changed.
So This Is Democracy? 2007


Media Institute of Southern Africa

Select target paragraph3