A strong call has gone out to Malawi’s Information Minister Patricia Kaliati to mend existing strained relations between Mutharika’s administration and journalists which has forced private media to shun covering presidential and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) functions.
Malawian journalists from private median organizations started boycotting attending presidential functions especially press conferences last year soon after DPP’s supporters including cabinet ministers, booed and intimidated journalists who were asking president Mutharika probing questions concerning problems facing the country during Mutharika’s arrival from his holiday in China.
The call was made during the Contemporary Issuesprogram on Radio Islam in which panelists Thom Khanje deputy chairperson of the National Media Institute for Southern Africa, Caroline Somanje news analyst for the daily Nation newspaper and a human rights activist Sheikh Aman Matiya, Executive Director for Civil Society for Human Rights and Justice were discussing recent report released by the Reporters Without Borders on Malawi’s position in its media index.
The 2011-2012 report has indicated that out of the 179 countries worldwide, Malawi has slumped 67 places- the highest fall in the world. This translates into position 146 from 79 in 2010.
Commenting on the findings Khanje said Namisa entirely agree with the ranking citing many media violations that have been happening in the country since 2010.
“These include the amendment of section 46 of the constitution, arrests and harassment of journalists during demonstrations and press freedom, closure of some private radio stations by Macra (regulatory body) during the July 20 demonstration. Denial of giving out government advertisement to the Nation newspapers and the list is endless”, he said.
Khanje said as Namisa they have on several occasion formally filed their complaints to the ministry of information on the harassment and intimidation of journalists by government officials but they haven’t received any response.
However Kaliati who was participating through phone call from Lilongwe did not agree or deny the findings of the report. She however asked media organizations to send her the report for proper scrutiny.
She however blamed journalists for remaining silent when they are harassed in the course of their duties.
“You journalists should be reporting to me when you are facing problems. Although I cannot be anybody’s cup of tea, I have an open door policy where any journalist can call and ask to meet me for a discussion. Am ready to discuss with anybody anywhere, be it at Shopritet or filling station”, she said.
However, Somanje said Kaliati should learn to avoid turning a blind eye to issues there are there for all to see.
“Most of the times DPP cohorts harass journalists in her [Patricia Kaliati] presence. But doesn’t bother taking an initiative in talking to them against the behavior,” she said.
In his remarks Matiya, who once worked as a presidential advisor on Islamic affairs during the reign of former president Dr Bakili Muluzi, said what Kaliati was saying was not practical.
“No one should cheat you here. I have worked with Kaliati before these people are too busy for impromptu meetings. There is still need to book appointment…”
Matiya said it’s sad that the DPP administration is handling journalists like in a dictatorial regime where the voice of dissent is suppressed.
“If DPP government came soon after the fall of the one party system of Malawi Congress Party, we wouldn’t have noticed any difference between democracy and autocracy in terms of media freedom. And I also wonder why only journalists from private media are regarded as enemies of government while those from state media are not, yet all these undergo same training and most of the times at the same institution,” said Matiya.
The panelists asked Kaliati to take an initiative to discuss with DPP supporters to stop harassing journalists during party functions if she is really concerned with journalists’ boycott of covering presidential functionsFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :