On May 3 every year, the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day. On this day, governments are reminded of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom while the press reflects on issues of press freedom and professional conduct. May 3 is also a day when the press, the world over, remembers journalists who lost their lives in pursuit of stories.
In Malawi, this is also the day when media houses and individual journalists are rewarded for their contribution to the nation and their hard work respectively.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme is ‘Information as Public Good’. This is such a befitting theme looking at what the world is facing, the Covid-19 pandemic, democracy under threat, and how information impacts our health, human rights, and the development of our country.
This is a call to governments such as Malawi to act with a matter of urgency, the operationalisation of the access to information. This is time that government should ensure that public institutions having public information, have responsible officers to readily share such information when required by the public.
Malawi continues to grapple with fake news and disinformation. Misinformation has the potential of undermining human rights, democracy, and development. When there is no information or the information is scanty, people will make stuff up, which can make or break even the strongest institutions, individuals, and even worse, a government.
Where there is a steady and consistent flow of information, there is little room left for speculation and little room for misinformation. Information plays a vital role in just everything that government and citizens do. In other words, fighting misinformation is possible when there is information.
When citizens ask for information, they are not doing out of respite, rather information helps them to make informed decisions. Information on how the government managed Covid-19 funds, for instance, will let the citizens know whether the government is serious about fighting the pandemic and ending corruption.
There is a disturbing the tendency by government to think they can fight misinformation by keeping quiet. It doesn’t work that way. When citizens ask for information on how money was spent or how a contract was awarded, keeping quiet will only create more speculation and surely fake news.
It is, therefore, important that as the world celebrates press freedom day government must reflect on its commitment to press freedom and also to ensure that public information is made available as and when citizens ask for it.
To my fellow women and men of the press, ours is a noble job. We are the fourth estate and watchdogs. Let us be professional and continue unearthing the hidden truths that others do not want to be uncovered.