Presidential spokesman Hetherwick Ntaba has defended the actions of ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters who booed and threatened to rough journalists for asking President Bingu wa Mutharika probing questions on Monday during the press conference at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe.
The press conference was hijacked into a political rally for the DPP where journalists were verbally abused and even threatened with physical violence and Police had to protect the press corps.
The development has received condemnation from media watchdogs including Misa-Malawi and Free Expression Institute, an independent civil society organization working for the promotion and enhancement of free expression in Malawi.
But Ntaba justified the “displeasures” of the DPP supporters, saying “even in your case if people were spreading false rumours that your uncle was dead or sick, you will be irritated by those false reports and particularly the media were there and they were not correcting those false reports.
“It’s an understandable that the public would have expressed those levels of displeasure at the media but it’s not bad treatment.”
Mutharika was returning from Hong Kong where he was having his holiday after attending Commonwealth summit in Australia which ended on 30th October.
There were rumours that he was in bad health during his holiday and even death speculations were fuelled when Ntaba refused to disclose the exact location of the Malawi leader, despite his assurances that Mutharika was fit and well.
Ntaba told Daybreak Malawi programme on Capital FM on Wednesday that DPP supporters were not wrong to give the journalists the hostile attitude.
“There have been periods when people have even been booing the president, politicians get booed all the times because of the public showing their displeasure, in this case the public were booing the media because of their displeasure,” said Ntaba, stressing that journalists were not “sacred cows.”
“I think DPP supporters had right to express their views, their displeasure. Even the President get booed why should reporters not get booed,” he said
Ntaba pointed out that President Mutharika “who is being harrassed and marginalised” by the media had ordered the DPP supporters not to heckle the journalists and allow them to ask probing questions. He also said the police protected the reporters.
The Presidential spokesman also said Mutharika had taken “the trouble of calling them [journalists] his children.”
Peter Jegwa for Free Expression Institute has said “the behaviour of DPP cohorts clearly have all the hallmarks of people intent on killing media freedom and professionalism.”
Jegwa says press conferences must be held in an environment where members of the press have an opportunity to do their job professionally without being subjected to any threats and other uncivilized acts of party mobs.
But Ntaba argued that “press conferences by the president are not just aimed at the media. The president addresses the nation as a whole at those occasions.”
Meanwhile, media managers say they will request for “exclusive meetings” with the President.
“Media managers are very concerned at the treatment that journalist got at the airport,” said Tikhala Chibwana, general manager of Blantyre Newspapers Limited.
“Boycotting of press conferences at the moment is not an option because we do have a mandate to give information to the public,” he said.
President Mutharika himself accused journalists of reporting negatively about Malawi and peddllig lies on his health .Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :