The Regional Secretariat of Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) on Friday reacted to accusations by Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika that the media is causing anarchy in the country by insulting him.
The media watchdog, said in a statement, obtained by Nyasa Times that it notes, “with profound distress”, the growing intolerance of media freedom and freedom of expression in Malawi.
Misa said it “strongly disagree with the suggestion that the media in Malawi are making it their vocation to demean and insult president Mutharika.”
It said, in a democracy, the media should be concerned with “shaping public opinion, mediating the debate between the state and civil society, but also acting as a watchdog over public process, against private gain. Free media [therefore] are a prerequisite to development in the promotion of democracy, human rights and governments.”
Mutharika’s statement which was signed by State House press officer, Albert Mungomo, also extends to social networks.
It reads: “The State House monitors carefully such networks that are hostile and probably careless in demeaning the state president.”
Misa said it is “extremely worried” that the government of Malawi may be conducting some “illegal surveillance of Internet use in Malawi based on their faulty perception that social networks are inherently hostile.”
The media watchdog said “this, in itself, reveals a profound lack of understanding of what the Internet is and its role in a democracy.”
Misa said: “ We will continue to pay close attention to the tone and language directed at Internet use in Malawi as we believe, based on the statement, that there exists a significant threat to Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace in Malawi. “
The statement also singles out phrases used by leading opinion writers in Malawi to refer to President Mutharika.
“ If that alone – the singling out of these phrases – does not constitute a threat then nothing else does,” Misa noted.
One of the columnists and BBC Correspondent, Raphael Tenthani, who if famous for using the phrase ‘Big Kahuna’ to refer to President Mutharika, has told MISA that this phrase is actually respectful.
“It means ‘the Big Boss’. I don’t know how it begins to be demeaning to the president. I have met the president several times and we have joked about it for I use it almost every week in my column,” said Tenthani.
The journalist said he will not stop using it “because doing so would be unwittingly admitting I have been disrespecting my president all these years.”Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :