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MISA Malawi end of 2021 statement

MISA Malawi end of 2021
1 Jan, 2022
Media freedom: Attacks on Journalists As we welcome the year 2022, MISA Malawi is deeply concerned that the Malawi Police Service (MPS) topped the list of perpetrators of attacks on journalists in 2021. Police have an obligation to protect all Malawians and enforce laws and as such we find it to be unfortunate that the […]

Media freedom: Attacks on Journalists

As we welcome the year 2022, MISA Malawi is deeply concerned that the Malawi Police Service (MPS) topped the list of perpetrators of attacks on journalists in 2021.

Police have an obligation to protect all Malawians and enforce laws and as such we find it to be unfortunate that the ‘law enforcers’ were in the forefront attacking journalists for simply doing their job.

In the year, police officers continued to assault, arbitrarily summon, arrest, detain and question journalists in the line of duty and/or over published stories. Five journalists were attacked by police in the year.

The attacks on journalists by police officers, in whatever form, is unfortunate and a direct attack on media freedom, which the Republican Constitution guarantees in Section 36.

We appeal to the Inspector General of the Malawi Police Service Dr. George Kainja, whom we have previously engaged, to live by his commitment to reprimand and discipline officers who commit crimes against journalists.

Media freedom: Self-Censorship

In the just ended year, MISA Malawi received and registered concerns on media self- censorship and selective publishing or airing of news stories. This has largely been attributed to threats and other external pressures including political and influence from corporates. 

Media self-censorship compromises media independence and overall freedom with a huge potential of eroding trust in the media.

We would like to advise journalists and media outlets to rise above political and corporate interests by publishing all stories that are in the public interest. We expect professional journalists and media outlets to not let individuals and groups with partisan and corporate interests gag them or influence their content.

Freedom of expression and digital rights

Despite verbal or digital threats from people with contrary views, freedom of expression thrived in the year. Malawians continued to express themselves using different platforms with social media such as Facebook, Twitter and messaging platforms such as WhatsApp leading the pack.

However, the year saw police actively using the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act of 2016 in the arrests and convictions of some social media users. The arrested individuals were either convicted for spreading false news or deemed posting “offensive” content.

We are cognizant of the fact that ignorance cannot be used as defense in a court of law, but there is need to popularize the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act. It is unfortunate that Malawians do not know or understand the law that is used to arrest and convict them, over five years since its enactment. 

MISA Malawi does not condone irresponsible use of social media but the new law and police action restrict and threaten free speech and digital rights in Malawi.

We are also concerned that internet charges remain high despite several government promises to negotiate for affordable data charges. We hope the recent promise by the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) for lowered data charges in 2022 will materialize for the benefit of internet users in Malawi.

In the year, we also saw police arresting some people for exercising their right to peaceful assembly. As a freedom of expression body, we look at the right to assembly as a freedom of expression issue and we are concerned that police are restricting it through arbitrary arrests of unarmed protesters. 

We appeal to police and other state agents to respect Section 38 of the Republican Constitution which guarantees the right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully and unarmed.

Access to information

In January 2021, the government made a progressive step by gazetting Access to Information (ATI) Regulations to facilitate the implementation of the Access to Information Act. However, access to information remains a challenge as some public offices including the presidency, remain secretive on some issues of public interest. The public is also yet to fully understand the access to information procedures.

We expect government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and other relevant private bodies to open up and proactively disclose public information in their custody. Public information belongs to the public.

The Malawi Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Information and other relevant bodies should also step up on their role to civic educate the general public on the ATI Act.

MISA Malawi National Governing Council, Secretariat and Members wish you all a democratic and progressive 2022. 

Contacts

MISA Malawi Chairperson Teresa Ndanga
Cell: 
+265 999 247 911 or email teresa.temweka@gmail.com
MISA Malawi National Director Aubrey Chikungwa
Cell: 
+265 999 327 311 or email info@misamalawi.org

About MISA

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) was founded in 1992. Its work focuses on promoting, and advocating for, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.

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/ MISA on Twitter

Our #MtolankhaniHouse hosted a meeting on how #CommunityMedia can support Early Childhood Development (ECD) in #Malawi. Community media managers met with the Ministry of Gender. Two parties discussed how community radio stations can produce quality & impactful programmes on ECD. https://t.co/fOfMgQ4PXu misamalawi photo
"Journalists and ordinary citizens should never censor themselves for fear of being arrested for allegedly ‘insulting’ the President"
#MediaFreedom #FreedomOfExpression
https://t.co/nT6Se0OvA3
MPs in #Malawi on Tuesday (29/11/22) amended section 4 of the Protected Flag, Emblems & Names Act of 1967 by removing the 'President' from the Act.
Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo told the media that with the name President protected, the Act criminalises #FreeSpeech https://t.co/dSE5n7PnQl
misamalawi photo