Media Institute of Southern Africa (Namisa) Malawi chapter has advised President Peter Mutharika to refrain from attacking journalists and local media houses.
The media watchdog’s statement ollows Mutharika’s outburst at a news conference he held on Thursday at official Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe aimed at updating Malawians on his recent trip to United Nations General Assembly.
At the news conference, Mutharika together with his spokesman Gerald Viola, accused the media of probing Mutharika’s travel bill to the UN Assembly.
But Misa-Malawi chairperson Thom Khanje in an interview with a local radio on Friday, described Mutharika’s action at the news conference as “unpresidential” and against what Malawians expected to hear.
“We are concerned and I don’t think this is what Malawians expected from the President” said Khanje.
He reminded the President that attacking the media is the same as attacking the country’s democracy hence the need to leave the journalists discharge their duties freely.
Khanje further encouraged Malawian journalist to continue the good work they are doing and to further investigate the real figures Mutharika used during the UN tour.
Nyasa Times and other media houses revealed to the general public that Mutharika travelled with a delegation of over 100 delegates.
Government officials including Minister of Foreign Affairs kept on arguing that Mutharika had gove with a delegation of 18 people.
But Mutharika said he went to US with a delegation of 106 which is of course on the hire side but defended the move saying the majority were funded by Civil Society Organizations (CSO).
During the news conference, the President described the media in Malawi as “irresponsible” and “agents of the opposition” for criticizing his trip over the size of his entourage, hiring of a private jet and the level of expenditure incurred in the wake of economic problems prevailing in the country.
President Mutharika even asked for an apology from some media houses over stories on the trip and fell short of specifying what action he would take should the apologies not come forward.
“We find the remarks by the President and his press secretary retrogressive and a threat to media freedom and freedom of expression. We are surprised that the President decided to target the media with unreasonable attacks instead of responding to the issues at hand and providing information Malawians are looking for regarding the trip to the UNGA,” a statement from Misa reads.
“Attacks on the media are attacks on democracy and should not be condoned”
MISA Malawi stated that the media has a duty to report and inform Malawians on matters of national importance.
“We believe the President’s concerns could easily be addressed by ensuring that government is proactive in disseminating information and enacting the Access to Information Bill (ATI) and ensure that Malawians have accurate and relevant information to make informed decisions. Secrecy and lack of information, as has been the case with the president’s trip to the UNGA, only creates room for speculation and rumor mongering,” Misa said.
The media body said the trip by the President to the UNGA was funded by tax-payers and Malawians have every right to know how their money is being spent by those charged with the responsibility of managing the resources.
“ And the media has constitutional duty of holding the government accountable in the way they use public funds and how they are governing the country in general,” the statement said.
Misa Malawi asked President Mutharika to always be “transparent and accountable” as he discharges his duties.
“He should also respect the role of the media in providing checks and balances on his government. Where he has concerns, they can be channelled through relevant media bodies for their review and adjudication,” Misa said.
Misa feels the approach taken during the news conference at State House creates an impression that government is taking systematic steps to suffocate the media, thereby strangling the country’s young democracy in the process.
“That cannot be condoned in a democratic Malawi,” Khanje said.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :