July 22, 2012
Peter Mutharika on Sunday in Lilongwe decided to play the mea culpa game by issuing an apology on behalf of DPP for all the wrong things Bingu wa Mutharika government did to journalists, including frustrating media freedom.
Well, I suppose Peter Mutharika expects all those who earn their bread and butter though journalism to be impressed by the so-called apology, shake his hand and live happily thereafter.
I am not impressed. This is not because I am the unforgiving type, but because I consider the apology as coming too late and done in outright bad faith.
The late Bingu wa Mutharika had a pathological hate for the independent media and it is no secret that he wanted to crush it with all the force and ruthlessness of a typical tin-pot tyrant. He formed a task force whose singular objective was to see the death of Nation Publications Limited (NPL).
With Binguâ€™s abundant blessings, the task force decided to stop all government advertising to NPL with a view to choke it financially so that it should close down, thereby risking over 250 jobs for innocent tax-paying and hardworking Malawians raising families and supporting countless relatives.
After Bingu told DPP cadets to protect him from critics, Zodiak Broadcasting Station vehicles were set on fire and police have failed to trace the culprits until today.
As if the above state-sponsored thuggery were not enough, the Bingu wa Mutharika government resorted to legislative bullying tactics by tightening Section 46 in the Penal Code to give a mere Minister of Information powers to ban a publication if he or she wakes up on the wrong side of the bed in literal sense because the grounds of doing so were as vague as the act itself.
When this came to a screeching nought after an uproar from some quarters including donors, the Bingu government announced tough measures in the 2011/2012 budget that introduced a 16.5 VAT on newspapers with a view to make them expensive. Its effect on circulations was horrendous as readers started comparing newspapers to other essentials such as bread and they chose food.
To cut a long story short, the Bingu wa Mutharika government wanted the instant death of the independent media in this country.
And while all this was happening, Peter Mutharika was a senior member of his brotherâ€™s government. As a blood relation to the former president, he was in a better position to advise him to concentrate on running the affairs of the State other than fighting the media in the manner he did. This cannot be more true for Peter Mutharika, a constitutional law expert who has spent most of his adult life in the US where media freedom is not negotiable.
Today, through the small mercies of God, the media survived and I still have my job and I can send my kids to school as well as help my relatives when I can. Today, through the grace of the Almighty, Section 46 of the Penal Code is in the dustbin where it belongs after it was repealed by the Joyce Banda government after Binguâ€™s death. Yes, today the 16.5 percent VAT on newspapers which the Bingu administration imposed to make them expensive and bleed them dry through falling circulations is gone, making many Malawians afford them.
Peter Mutharikaâ€™s apology is, therefore, unwarranted, unnecessary and being made in bad faith because all he wants is to use the media as a platform for his election campaign in 2014. That is why he has the guts of thanking the newspapers for covering his rally in his home town of Thyolo.
He is trying to be cosy with the independent press because he has lost his control of MBC where he was the constant feature day in, day out. It was, after all, being run by his stooges who have since been shown the exit door for their lack of professionalism.
But I have got news for Peter Mutharika. There is nothing to thank the media for. Independent media owe its existence to the public. The public needed to hear Peter Mutharika no matter how empty his rhetoric would be because he is a public figure living on our hard-earned tax.
Besides, Peter Mutharika wants to undemocratically make himself a presidential candidate although DPP has not held a convention to my knowledge. Malawians want to know what his agenda is, no matter how empty and false it can be so that they judge for themselves when they decide not to vote for him come 2014.
The coverage was not to please him as he intimated it to be. As for his apology, just like I told his spokesperson Nicholas Dausi, he can jump with it into Lake Malawi or Nasolo River in Ndirande. It is coming too little and too late when the media do not need it.