Malawi groups petition MPs to endorse media accord: Table Mountain Declaration

Just a few months after President Joyce Banda’s failure to sign the to  sign the  Table Mountain Declaration media accord, two leading Civil Society Organisations in the area of human rights, rule of law and democratic governance have come out strongly against the government for its continued inaction to endorse the document, urging it to ‘follow the footsteps’ of Ghana and Liberia who are signatories.

President Banda in April declined to make commitment to sign to the repeal of insult laws, a decision that riled the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter.

Banda said the reason she rejected  signing the media accord was because she was not given enough time to consult legal experts on the matter.

However, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) have expressed concern that Malawi Government is not making any move to have the document endorse, saying it is an important declaration which is key to the country’s sustainable economic, political, social and cultural development.

Mtambo: Reading the petition
Mtambo: Reading the petition

“The center-piece of the declaration is that it calls upon African governments to respect and uphold freedom of the press by, among other things, abolishing ‘insult’ and criminal defamation laws which continue to be applied to harass, arrest and/ or imprisons media practitioners in most African countries,” reads part of CHRR-CEDEP joint-petition presented to Malawi National Assembly by their representative Timothy Mtambo.

“We believe that charge of criminal defamation, criminal libel and insult amount to penalization of freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the Malawi Republican Constitution as a right and is the very essence of democracy that Malawians chose in 1993.”

While acknowledging that the media can at times act irresponsibly, the two CSOs believes there are better options the government or country can take in order to address such malpractices than taking the ‘criminalization path’ as has been the trend over the years.

“We accept that the press must account for their actions and that irresponsible journalism must be punished, but we do not believe that such recourse should include criminalization. We believe that public apologies, retraction or clarification of stories and civil suits can provide enough remedy. CHRR and CEDEP unequivocal position is that criminal defamation is unnecessary, threatens media freedom and is incompatible with our democratic values”.

CHRR and CEDEP then appeals to Malawi Parliament to take action by passion  a motion during the current sitting endorsing the Table Mountain Declaration and urging the President to sign it.

The rights groups also appeal to lawmakers to proactively start reviewing media laws towards repeal of so called “insult laws” such as criminal defamation” according to the petition signed by CHRR’s acting Executive Director Timothy Mtambo and CEDEP Executive Director Gift Trapence.

Minister of Information and Civic Education Moses Kunkuyu indicated that President Banda may soon sign the Declaration of Table Mountain.

Membrs of the CSOs presenting their petition at parliament.
Membrs of the CSOs presenting their petition at parliament.

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