Quo Vadis Malawi press freedom?

I do not write because I enjoy writing; I write because I have to! As a democracy most of us ought to make comments on what we think is right,  or indeed, wrong with the direction our beloved country’s democracy is  taking and, silence is not an option! And if our fate be determined by
it (the writing), so be it!

May I start by thanking the media for their continuing attempts to inform the nation on various pertinent  issues, some of them political. Freedom of Speech as a right and, in my  opinion’ one of the most precious liberty of them all and, without it,  its absence would put an end to democracy itself in Malawi! For example; in most democratic countries, limitations on freedom of speech are found in laws relating to; Blasphemy, Incitement to Disaffection,  Official Secrets Act, Obscenity, Defamation, Public Order Act etc.

Katsonga: Author

In  the media bill recently passed in our Parliament too much was given to the government (Minister of Information) in a way that gives some of us the opinion that the government is muzzling the media (radio, TV, print).

What our democracy wants to see is a situation in the country where the government and its agents do not, directly or otherwise intimidate journalists. The media has the right to criticise the government of the day or heap praise on it based on everyday issues. It is also a known fact that radio stations and the printed media have  got different political slants but, to be taken seriously, they, more  often than not try to show a balanced position in the way they present the news –  a vigorous and free press is therefore indispensable to a  free society, speaking out plainly and stalwartly when a specific  government policy (or an issue) is improper or, when corruption is
located in public affairs or, and even more seriously; when our human  rights are ruptured.

And remember there is a Latin saying which goes, “Nemo…patriam quia magna est amat, sed quia sua” (No one loves his  country because it is big but because it is his own). In my opinion,  most of our journalists do their job of informing the people of this country because of their love for motherland Malawi; they need our  cooperation and appreciation and not harassment and ridicule. They do  not ask questions to our politicians (including the President) because  they want to be rude and cheeky, no, not at all! The least the Government of the day can do is to give them the answers they seek, besides, they do not ask the questions for their personal interest, they do, for the interest of the nation. We as politicians and Party supporters cannot justify handling them as was the case  Kamuzu International Airport, a couple of weeks ago when President Bingu wa Mutharika had arrived from his “annual” holiday.  Journalists asking our President the Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika, what some of saw as pertinent questions, were shouted down and in my opinion humiliated by “DPP Cadets (allegedly) and even DPP Members of Parliament” present at
the airport. We must always be mindful that, all elected politicians are employees of the people in the country they serve.

Those people who jeered the journalists would have benefitted from the answers the President would have given had some of the journalists gathered enough courage to ask whatever question they had for the Ngwazi. For example, questions on issues like, the shortage of drugs in our
hospitals, fuel shortages, rising food prices, the dropping value of the Malawi Kwacha, lack of new bank notes at our banks, human rights violations, corruption, etc. It must not be a case of, “My government right or wrong”, putting our heads in the sand will not solve the  nation’s ills! Blind loyalty in any political party is always destructive; please use your Indaba’s(National Governing Council) to openly discuss issues of national interest; such “closed” debates would not only give the DPP a good image in the minds of the voters but, would also help improve the calamities the country is currently experiencing.

Surely, it is not only opposition mothers who die on hospital operating beds because there was an electricity power failure and the generator had no diesel, ambulances and the police unable to respond to SOS calls because they did not have fuel in their cars, school-going children failing to finish their homework because of the same reason; those forced to finish their homework do so under nyali ya chikoloboyi  (paraffin bottle/tin lamp) which is also bad for their eyesight; .  –
And remember, we are experiencing drug shortages in our hospitals; companies failing to import spare parts for their machines because they did not get a foreign exchange allocation from the bank, others closing down because they cannot get forex in good time (if at all) to import  their stocks, companies moving out of the country into neighbouring countries for the same reason and the ensuing loss of employment for  Malawians. These problems are afflicting every Malawian – yes,;
including DPP Cadets and the MPs who were jeering the journalists at theKamuzu International Airport.

I refuse to believe DPP National Governing Council members are also not experiencing these problems – I also refuse to believe the Ngwazi would fire them for highlighting them at their meetings; I humbly ask them not to be afraid of the President; he is really a pussy cat (and I do not say this derogatively) when it  comes to open talks in a closed room – he really is, go on, try him? He may positively surprise you guys! Tell him what your constituents are telling you and what suggestions they are putting forward; you may learn something there!  And the Malawi Nation could also benefit from your  courage.

The DPP ought to make a statement against the behaviour of their supporters at press conferences (rallies). I do not think the Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika is frightened of questions
from our journalists? Surely, he can easily give clear answers which would satisfy most of us voters.  By barracking the reporters, these people are demonstrating their democratic credentials need polishing up and they cannot even tell or correctly second-guess what answers the President is going to give to these questions. Please DPP Cadets and others, give the President of Malawi a chance to decide which questions to answer and how. You should also remember that Ngwazi Professor Bingu
wa Mutharika is not a President for just the DPP; he is the President of the Republic of Malawi; our President, and he is, consequently, accountable to all of us, equally!

Let me also give some direct advice to these DPP supporters if your own party cannot give you
(by the way, it’s free!). First, go back to the policies which made  Bingu’s first administration popular, replicate and implement them again; you will find that you may not have any reason to jeer our
journalists at press “rallies”.

To our journalists, I say this,do not succumb to government pressure; for the sake of your
professionalism, integrity and dignity; continue to do what you do as professionals, even if they put a scone (not even a milk scone) in your mouth! Our democracy did not come on a silver-platter; let us protect it– together!

I want to kindly ask all politicians in this country that our motto should be, “I do not like what you say about me but, I will always defend your right to say it” (Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime Prime Minister).

Long live Malawi Journalism, Long live Malawi Democracy!

• The author of the article is Davies Chester Katsonga;
• Director:  Campaign, Strategy and Party Development in the UDF (United Democratic Party – an    Opposition Party in Malawi).
• Chairman: China Malawi Cultural & Social Links (China
Enculturation Association),                                       

 Distinguished Advisor:
Chinese Africa Overseas Chamber of Trade & Commerce,

• ….and Malawi’s Former:
Speaker of Parliament,
Minister of Mines, Energy & Natural Resources,                                               

Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Minister of Presidential & Parliamentary Affairs,
Minister of Defense,
Minister of Labour

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