Malawi ‘biggest fall’ in latest media freedom rankings

Malawi media freedom worsened in the past year, according to the latest report by international media rights advocate group Reporters Without Borders.

In the latest ranking of 179 countries, Malawi tumbled 67 places to 146th spot on the list – the biggest fall in the index and of any country in the world.

The Paris-based group attributes Malawi’s drop to “the totalitarian tendencies of its president, Bingu Wa Mutharika.”

The watchdog says that increasingly repressive media legislation -amendment to Section 46 of the Penal Code to empower the minister of information to ban either publication or importation of newspapers and any other publications deemed not ‘in the public interest’ – had caused some European donors to suspend part of their aid.

Zodiak car torched by DPP thugs, media crackdown

The Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA- Malawi) also said 2011 saw Malawi’s media environment deteriorate to the worst.

MISA Malawi chairperson, Anthony Kasunda is on record saying that 2011 saw physical attacks on journalists in their line of duty, for example, the 20 July 2011 demonstrations which left 23 journalists injured.

“We also saw death threats text messages to journalists” and  also “direct attacks on media houses and reporters deemed critical of the state, for example direct torching of ZBS (Zodiak Broadcasting Station) vehicles and closure of media outlets during the July 20 demonstrations.”

The Press Freedom Index is compiled using results from a questionnaire sent to international partner groups. It focuses on direct attacks against journalists — arrests, media blackouts and other types of forceful government intervention.

Crackdown

The media watchdog named “crackdown” the word of 2011 in an assessment of global media freedom during a year in which journalists covering sweeping protests were tested as never before.

“Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous.

“The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them.”

The 10th annual Press Freedom Index also shows world’s biggest democracy, United States,  fell 27 points on the list due to the many arrests of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests.

The group judged that Syria, along with Iran and China, “seem to have lost contact with reality as they have been sucked into an insane spiral of terror.”

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