MISA Malawi would like to congratulate President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera and Vice President Right Honourable Saulos Chilima for their victory during the June 23, 2020 Fresh Presidential Election.
The election of the two is an expression of the will of the people of Malawi. It is also a reflection of the trust that Malawians have in their policies and commitment to fight poverty, promote the rule of law and safeguard democracy.
Media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information are central to the fight against poverty and promotion of participatory democracy.
It is on this basis that we would like to highlight a number of critical areas the new administration should address to sustain the trust Malawians have demonstrated and ensure an accountable government and meaningful participatory democracy.
1. Appoint a date for the operationalisation of the Access to Information (ATI) Act: Corruption and overall bad governance thrive in darkness and secrecy. The ATI Act is necessary to fight corruption and ensure an open and accountable government. We therefore call upon Dr. Chakwera and Dr. Chilima to set the date for implementation of the ATI Act and ensure the Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has adequate resources to oversee implementation of the legislation. Former president Professor Peter Mutharika assented to the law in February 2017 but the minister responsible is yet to set a date for the law to come into effect.
2. Stop impunity and attacks on journalists, critical voices: Malawi has registered 12 attacks on journalists between January and June this year without any arrests made. We hope the Chakwera-Chilima presidency marks the end of attacks on journalists; unwarranted and systematic gagging of critical voices.
3. Ensure independence of the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA): MACRA and MBC are critical for a vibrant and diverse media sector but fail to effectively carry out their legal mandates due to political interference. MBC and MACRA require transformation that goes beyond changing the leadership of the two institutions to legal reforms that guarantee independence and security of leadership positions. MACRA should not be used to censure private media houses and MBC should not be used as a propaganda tool for the party in power but a platform for diverse and robust debate on matters of national interest.
4. Uphold duty free clause on broadcasting equipment: As the new administration prepares a revised budget for the 2020/2021 National Budget, we would like to call upon the new leadership to maintain the duty-free clause for radio and television broadcasting equipment as one way of promoting media freedom and access to information. The removal of duty on broadcasting equipment by the Mutharika administration was applauded as central to help broadcasters acquire high quality equipment at reduced prices. We would however like to appeal to the new administration to also consider scraping off VAT on newsprint to support the print media which is struggling with circulation figures because of the tough economic environment prevailing in the country. Extending the duty-free clause to newsprint will be a clear demonstration of your government’s commitment to media freedom and access to information.
It is our sincere hope that the Chakwera and Chilima leadership will respect constitutional guarantees on media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information, which are all central to building a sustainable and vibrant democratic dispensation.
We look forward to a good working relationship between your government and the media in the promotion of development and democracy in Malawi.
We wish you good health as you lead Malawi.