Malawi’s Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) has applauded the country’s private media for standing their ground to champion media freedom and other fundamental human freedoms.
In a statement released in commemoration of the World Human Rights Day which falls of December 10, the two human rights bodies, made a special mention on Nyasa Times, Nation Publications Limited, Blantyre Newspapers, Zodiak Broadcasting Station and Capital FM Radio for their role towards the promotion and defense of human rights in Malawi.
The statement bemoaned that while much has been said on the pivotal role played by the various human rights institutions, or civil society on a broader scale, little has been said on the contribution of Malawi’s media institutions towards human rights advancement in the past two decades.
“Informed and guided by their professional ethics, quite a number of Malawi’s media institutions particularly those in the private sector have unrelentingly collaborated with other key players in the democratic process like the Civil Society, government, opposition and others towards the promotion and protection of the various human rights and fundamental freedoms,” reads the statement.
Timothy Mtambo, CHRR acting Executive Director and Gift Trapence CEDEP Executive Director have jointly signed the statement whose main focus is “Exploring the Role Played by the Media Towards the Advancement of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Malawi”.
“We at CHRR and CEDEP applaud the private media for standing their ground towards championing media freedom as well as other fundamental freedoms as enshrined in both our domestic constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” say Mtambo and Trapence.
The statement adds: “The private media is indebted for registering some great strides towards a balanced coverage of issues through the provision of the much-needed platform for the expression of opinion by the citizens and also giving publicity to the issues around which political and human rights debate centers.”
The statement says that the media, through investigative journalism and provision of a platform on which various human rights and fundamental freedoms including freedom of expression, has provided the public with access to the right information necessary for debate and informed decisions on various issues of national interest.
This is the second statement jointly issued by CHRR and CEDEP for the World Human Rights Day and also in commemoration of 20 years of human rights work in the country.
The two bodies specifically applauded the media on how it covered the controversial section 65 versus Budget, Muluzi’s third term bid, change of national flag, quota system and recently the Cash-gate scandal where they say most of the private media houses provided the most needed platform for debate on such issues.
However, the statement observes that this does not suggest that the private media in Malawi has all along played an “angelic role” on the national front.
“Certainly, there have been some scenarios where a few private media houses have often openly shown their allegiance towards specific political figures or groupings in their coverage. This is for no doubt regrettable especially as we all are working towards free and fair tripartite elections,” reads the statement further.
Mtambo and Trapence say that in as much as such institutions may claim not to be run by taxpayers money hence not accountable to the public but to their sponsors, they must come to terms with the fact they are obliged to abide by the dictates of media ethics, which allow impartial coverage of issues.
“Such media institutions need to know that by being skewed towards a particular political grouping, they are in fact infringing on citizen’s freedom of expression, choice and right to information,” add the two human rights activists.
The statement also decried the tendency by governments of perceiving the private media as opposition agents bent at thwarting their development agenda.
Adds the statement: “Some journalists and media houses have landed themselves in problems with politicians particularly those from the ruling elite who have unrelentingly unleashed baseless attacks on them merely because of journalists or media’s failure to dance to their tunes.
“Journalists or media houses that have exposed and condemned the existing wrongs of such politicians have either been threatened or labelled all sorts of names, for instance mercenary journalists. Some of them have even been subjected to unjustifiable arrests.”
The statement also condemned recent revelations that one of the high officials of the “ruling” Peoples Party is on recorded to have advised the President and government to stop “giving business” to private media houses as they are critical of the government.
Mtambo and Trapence say this was nothing but an indication of a desperate government that is ready to use all the machinery at its disposal in order to suppress any dissenting views in the face of the existing political and economic malaise.
CHRR and CEDEP also condemned the public broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation for its continued biased coverage towards government saying that such acts would likely affect the 2014 tripartite elections.
Referring to the article “Levelling the electoral playing field”, by Malawi’s renowned academician-cum-human rights and governance defender Edge Kanyongolo in which he expressed pessimism over the success of the forthcoming tripartite elections, CHRR and CEDEP say it is surprising that MBC continues acting in a such a way despite the prevailing laws which directly demand MBC to be free from bias in its reporting.
In conclusion the two bodies say recognizing the vital role played by the media as the country approaches the 2014 Tripartite elections, all media institutions in Malawi should realize the noble task that lies ahead of them in the build-up to, during and post-math of a free and fair 2014 Tripartite Elections, driven by the philosophy of ensuring that all citizens have the right information and an awareness of alternative points of view sufficient to make rational choices between policies, candidates and parties, the media in Malawi is obliged to provide full, diverse and balanced information, and also give equal direct access to all political parties. In this view CHRR and CEDEP recommends the following:
- In view of the 2014 Tripartite elections, there is a need for all media houses in the country to strictly adhere to the Malawi Electoral Commission Media Ethical Code of Conduct towards a Free and Fair Elections
- The government must always protect and promote the rights and freedoms of journalists as well as providing an enabling environment for the media to work in. All oppressive legislations impinging on the effective work of the media must be repealed.
- President Joyce Banda must sign the Table of Mountain Declaration as her clear commitment towards ensuring media freedom in the country
- As a matter of urgency, the government should present the access to information bill to parliament for deliberation and passing into law. We have said this without number that “freedom of information should be guaranteed as a legal and enforceable right permitting every individual to obtain records and information held by the executive, the legislative and the judicial arms of the state, as well as any government owned corporation and any other body carrying out public functions”
- Malawi Communications and Regulatory Authority should ensure that Zodiak Broadcasting Corporation and Blantyre Newspapers Limited Televisions roll out on digital in good time to complement the only existing Malawi Broadcasting Corporation MBC TV towards a free and fair 2014 Tripartite Elections
- Joyce Banda administration should fully open up MBC for all as per her promise immediately she assumed the office of President.