Malawi President Joyce Banda has disappointed the media fraternity after she refused to endorse the Declaration of Table Mountain, which calls for repeal of criminal defamation and ‘insult’ laws and for putting press freedom higher on the agenda in Africa.
Representatives of the media presented the Table Mountain Declaration to President Banda at Sanjika Palace last week ahead of the World Press Freedom Day, May 3.
The declaration, made in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2007, calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and ‘insult’ laws across the African continent. It was adopted at the World Newspaper Congress.
Numerous press freedom and civil society organisations, including President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have endorsed the declaration, which identifies criminal defamation and ‘insult’ laws as amongst the most severe obstacles to securing the future of the independent press in Africa and calls for their repeal.
Africa’s first female Head of State, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, signed the declaration on July 21 2012.
But Malawi’s Banda who accused the media of “irritating” her with negative reports refused to become the third Head of State on the continent to subscribe to the ideals of pushing forth a free press in the country.
Presidential Press Secretary Steven Nhlane confirmed the development
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) regional chairperson Anthony Kasunda, who is also chairperson of the Misa Malawi Chapter said they were “disappointed” with President Banda’s stand.
Misa Malawi chairperson, in a statement released on Monday said: “We have, unfortunately, received communication from State House that the President has declined to sign the Declaration. No reasons have been given.”
Since taking over government following the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika last year April, Banda’s administration has repealed Section 46 of the Penal Code which gave powers to a minister to ban any publication and removing value added tax (VAT) on newspapers .