Head of the European Union (EU) in Malawi, Marchel Gerrmann, has said journalism in Malawi has improved in recent years as the country has moved 100 places on World Press Freedom Index from the position held in 2012.
Gerrmann made the observation last evening during a Media Institute of Southern Africa-Malawi Chapter (Misa-Malawi) gala dinner in Mzuzu to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day.
The EU envoy, said he was thankful that Malawi is not among countries where journalists have to risk their lives and freedom in pursuit of their profession.
Gerrmann said: “Malawi’s current ranking of 59 out of 180 countries recognises, however, that there are still improvements that can be made. Therefore, it is my sincere hope to see Malawi rise further in the rankings in the coming years.”
He said protecting media freedom is a human rights issue supported by the EU around the world.
Gerrmann said EU advances human rights in Malawi through a number of programmes, including given financial and technical support to the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC).
He commended Malawi Government for its commitment to supporting openness and transparency through drafting and eventual instruction of the Access to Information (AIT) Bill.
He said the EU was looking forward to positive news in the near future on the enactment of the bill.
Meanwhile, commentators have expressed shock at government’s failure to table the ATI Bill in next sitting of Parliament.
Disappointment was the prevailing mood yesterday when journalists met in Mzuzu for the commemorations of the World Press Freedom Day organised by Misa-Malawi.
Speaking at a debate shortly after a solidarity march in the streets of the leafy city, the panellists could not hide their frustration at recent indications by Leader of the House Francis Kasaila that no new bills will be tabled in the budget session of Parliament to be opened by President Peter Mutharika tomorrow.
Kasaila’s statement comes against earlier assurances by government that the bill, which has been in the making for over a decade, would be tabled in the forthcoming session, said Misa-Malawi legal adviser Mandala Mambulasa.
Mambulasa said: “When we met the Minister of Justice Sam Tembenu last month, he told us the bill is at the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs; that they were still looking at it and cross-referencing to make sure it speaks with other laws.
“I remember they assured us that the process would be complete by the budget session of Parliament. With recent indications, we are not sure whether they are just playing games or they want to do a thorough job. We give them the benefit of doubt.”
The journalists, who are just one of the beneficiaries of liberalisation of information, said patience is waning and some of them suggested staging a protest at the gates of Parliament or shutting down radio stations and newspapers for a day or two to give Malawians a glimpse of what the country would be without information.
Backing the rising calls, human rights activist Marcel Chisi said there was need for concerted effort to compel government to pass the law as a matter of urgency.
“As the civil society we see ATI as the lifeblood of democracy. Citizens who don’t know cannot make informed decisions and take part. We are told the wheels of government turn very slow. We only need to create a sense of urgency to make the wheels turn as we want,” he said.
Orison Chaponda, team leader for the technical facilitation unit at the EU-funded Democratic Governance Programme, said it is a disgrace that the legislators will not discuss the bill which gives public servants legal backing to disclose information to the public.
“The problem in this country is we overprotect people who have voluntarily chosen to be public servants. When people vie for public office, they have very little to protect,” said Chaponda.
Former Misa-Malawi chairperson Anthony Kasunda backed his successor Thom Khanje’s calls for a march at the Parliament Building in Lilongwe.