As we reflect on the year 2022, MISA Malawi applauds the government of Malawi for repealing sedition laws and amending the Protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act.
We would like to thank our Members of Parliament (MPs) for expeditiously passing the Penal Code (Amendment) and Protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act (Amendment) Bills, a breath of fresh air in the country’s freedom of expression and media landscape.
MISA Malawi believes that such a progressive action is the beginning of the end of a long and winding journey that we have walked to see the decriminalization of sedition and repeal of other laws that restrict freedom of expression.
We would like to however remind our lawmakers there are still old and undemocratic laws in our statutes. We hope the government will continue the process of repealing and reviewing such bad laws for a democratic and thriving civic space.
Above everything, MISA Malawi extends gratitude to the membership, partners/sponsors, stakeholders and the general public for the unwavering support in the achievement of what we planned and even beyond. We owe our success to you and are thrilled to welcome the new year with you.
Despite the positive developments, 2022 had its challenges:
- Closure of television and radio stations
Sadly, in 2022, we witnessed the closure of some television and radio stations due to delays by the stations to pay licence fees to the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA). The development spoiled the broadcasting industry gains of many years. Malawi has become a model of diversity and overall growth of the broadcasting media but the closure of stations dowsed the momentum, threatened the broadcasting space and rendered dozens of journalists jobless.
While many media stations managed to pay off their arrears, it has to be noted that the majority opted for bank loans, sacrificed salaries for employees for a couple of months and the religious affiliated media raised the money through church offerings.
We reiterate our call to the government to find a lasting solution to this challenge than effecting closures without an in-depth understanding of what causes the payment delays.
- Attacks on journalists
Attacks on journalists continued in 2022. In the year ending, members of the community were more hostile to journalists than police and politicians in the preceding year. Here are some of the cases we registered;
- In April, police arrested Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) founder Gregory Gondwe over a story that PIJ published. They also confiscated his IT gadgets, violating media freedom and Gondwe’s right to privacy in the process.
- In April, followers of convicted Pastor Penjani Sodzera of Reedemed for Christ Church assaulted Times Group correspondent Tiyese Monjeza and attacked other journalists who were covering the pastor’s defilement case at the Mulunguzi magistrate’s court in Zomba.
- In May, Super League of Malawi (SULOM) General Secretary Williams Banda verbally attacked Radio Islam Sports reporter Yusuf Daisa in a phone call. The reporter’s ‘sin’ was seeking clarification on the Super League fixture.
- In July, Times Group cameraperson Emmanuel Simpokolwe was assaulted by some demonstrators in Lilongwe.
- In August, some people believed to be Mighty Mukuru Wanderers supporters assaulted Times Group correspondent Imam Wali as he was taking pictures at Dedza Stadium.
3. No funding to MHRC for Access to Information (ATI) activities
Legally, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is designated to oversee the implementation of the Access to Information (ATI) Act. However, in the 2022/2023 national budget, the Commission received no funding for the activities under the Act, casting doubt on the government’s commitment to effective implementation of the law. The Act places a huge responsibility on the Commission and failure to fund activities is against the spirit of transparency and accountability that birthed the Act.
- The economic downturn
As many other sectors, the media sector was in process of recovering from the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic when the Reserve Bank of Malawi devalued Malawi Kwacha by 25 percent. The economic challenges such as forex shortage, the resultant devaluation, power outages and fuel shortages had a huge bearing on the economy and operations of media outlets and journalists. In 2022, some media outlets retrenched staff to keep floating and others struggled to pay their staff.
- Slowing down of the accountability drive at State House
In 2021, we celebrated the opening up of the presidency through the introduction of ‘State House weekly briefings’. However, the holding of such briefings became more sporadic in 2022 amidst several issues surrounding the presidency. The President needs to be answerable to the people of Malawi and weekly or fortnightly briefings are one of better ways of making him accessible and accountable. Still, we commend the Ministry of Information and Digitalization for initiating ‘Government faces the Press’ in which Ministers respond to issues about their ministries.
Media freedom, freedom of expression and right to access information are freedoms and rights duly recognized in our Constitution. We therefore call on the government and everyone to always protect and respect such rights and freedoms. We also call upon journalists and Malawians to enjoy such rights and freedoms responsibly.
We wish you all a happy new year!