he year 2007 should have read like a fairy-tale for Malawi media. However, it did not. It
began with a luncheon for media bosses hosted by the President Bingu wa Mutharika at
the new State House, his official residence, in Lilongwe. He followed this up with invitations
to selected private media houses to send their journalists to accompany the President in his
foreign tours, presumably to stave off a spate of bad publicity from foreign media. But the
stand-off between the Parliament and the public media moved from bad to worse on matters of
covering opposition activities. This culminated in the crown jewels of the public media - Malawi
Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and Malawi Television (TVM) - getting more than a rap on
the knuckles from the National Assembly. Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe gave the two
institutions a token of MK1 (less than one US cent) each in the national budget. It became clear
that the national assembly would not fund institutions that it felt favored the opposition.
The Government continues to exercise the power given by laws that exist to harass the media.
For instance, the police can still harass and detain media workers on unclear grounds. Montfort
Media photojournalist Kazembe Kayira was detained and had his camera confiscated by the
police for taking pictures at a presidential function. He was released without charge.

Media-Government Relationship
The government and the media continued to play the cat-and-mouse game. There was no change
in the long-running mistrust between the two institutions, with the Government withholding
information and sometimes using threats against the media, while the media earned itself a
bad name for persistently trying to uncover every piece of dirt it can on the Government and
glossing over the wrongs of the opposition. There is clearly a need for open dialogue and
mutual assurance of goodwill.

Constitutional Rights and Legislative Environment
The Malawi Constitution, which the country adopted in 1995, a year after acceding to multiparty democracy is regarded as one of the best on the African continent. However many laws in
the country violate the Bill of Rights in the Constitution and need instant repeal. Last January,
MISA Malawi, in conjunction with Media Council organised a national consultative meeting
to find a way forward on how to address these issues.
Politicians have sometimes tried to infringe the rights of the media through the use of sheer
brute force, as amply demonstrated by the attack on Blantyre Newspapers Limited (BNL)
Lilongwe Bureau Chief Dickson Kashoti by MP Joseph Njobvuyalema; or through the abuse
of the courts as in the case of Neno MP Mark Katsonga who obtained an injunction stopping
BNL from reporting on a case in which he was accused of causing a hit-and-run road accident
and killing a cyclist. BNL challenged the injunction and reported the matter, including his
conviction and the fine he was ordered to pay.

The media faced several defamation suits in 2007, some of them totally ingenious in their
construction. Two people mentioned in a story involving a woman caught in a love triangle
with a bank manager and a catholic priest sued The Daily Times for defamation. The woman,
whose marriage was dissolved by the courts for irreconcilable differences, and the bank manager sued the newspaper for not seeking their side of the story although the story was based
on court records. BNL fired Reporter Carol Somanje and suspended its general manager over
the same story. On a lighter note, several people have threatened to sue or sued The Sunday
Times over its scandal column “the drycleaner”, all of them claiming to have been the subject
of a story that mentions no name but gives pointers on possible culprits.
So This Is Democracy? 2007


Media Institute of Southern Africa

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