Two leading human rights watchdogs Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) have cautioned President Peter Mutharika against taking the path of his predecessors who in one way or the other attempted to cripple the operations of the media especially those which were deemed to be critical of the government of the day.
After taking a jibe at Nyasa Times recently from Waldof Astoria Hotel in New York where he was attending the 68th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, President Mutharika took another jibe at the online publication, claiming it peddles malicious falsehoods about him, citing the recent report where the publication reported about his alleged extravagance whilst in New York.
But in a statement, the two rights groups observed with dismay the growing anger against and “intolerance” to media criticism that has of late become of President Mutharika’s regime, and appealed to the Head of State to respect and protect media freedom in the country to avoid repeating the mistakes of his predecessors.
“While respecting the President’s freedom of expression, we at CHRR and Cedep have of late observed President’s Mutharika’s growing anger against and some level of “intolerance” to media criticisms a situation if not corrected at this infant stage may have grave repercussions in the long run in as far as his government’s track record on the respect and protection of media freedom is concerned.
“His government’s recent singling out of Nation Publications Limited editor and columnist George Kasakula and now Nyasa Times online publications as being hell-bent at thwarting his political and development agenda is regrettable, and has the potential of instilling fear in the media community and hence impinging on their media freedom. We therefore urge the President to desist from any steps that would tarnish his government’s image and stifle free exercise and enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms including the media freedom,” reads part of the statement signed by Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence, executive directors of CHRR and Cedep.
The rights groups also took a swipe to attack all the regimes that had graced the country political history since 1994 as being “intolerant” to media criticism.
“CHRR and Cedep observe with dismay the perennial disease that is our governments of perceiving the private media especially those which are deemed critical of the prevailing government as opposition agents or mercenaries. Apart from the recent Nyasa Times and Nation Publications Limited George Kasakula experience, memories are afresh of how Raphael Tenthani, Mavuto Banda, Malawi Voice’s Justice Mponda, Zodiak,and NPL landed themselves in trouble with the previous regimes just for exposing the truth as guided by their media calling.
“Informed by such a background, we at CHRR and Cedep realize that governments are always ready, if not properly checked, to use their machinery just to suppress any dissent views, and as such precautions should be taken to address any symptom pointing to that undesirable direction as should be the case in the current APM-Nyasa Times saga”.
CHRR and Cedep also faulted Mutharika, and the previous regimes, of always blaming the media in the country of being unpatriotic whenever they publish stories that exposes the gaffes of the government of the day.
“Patriotism should never be equated to speaking or writing ‘feel good’ news about the prevailing governments when the reality on the ground is different – a reality characterized by growing nepotism, abuse of power and public resources, non-respect of human rights and good governance. A patriotic media house is that which calls a spade by its name – a media house that for instance exposes the prevailing nepotism, cashgate, human rights abuses and other prevailing hidden truths – so that the public is well informed towards a lasting solution. It’s pathetic that all of our governments since 1994 have often used this fallacious argument just to manipulate the public to rise against the unpatriotic media.”