Journalists in the country yesterday joined their counterparts across the world in celebrating World Press Freedom Day amid safety concerns due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The main celebration started earlier in the day with a Freedom March from Kamuzu Upper Stadium in Blantyre
t hrough Masauko Chipembere Highway to Malawi Sun Hotel for a Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter organised panel discussion.
Scores of veteran and upcoming journalists sang and danced to songs on press freedom and the vital role they play in preserving free societies while entertaining, educating and informing the citizens.
The panel discussion centred on this year’s celebrations theme Information as a Public Good: State of Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in Malawi 30 Years after the Windhoek Declaration.
The panellists included Misa Malawi chairperson Tereza Ndanga, Media Council of Malawi (MCM) cha irper son Wisdom Chimgwede and State House director of communication Sean Kampondeni.
Among others, the t hree discussants answered the question on whether the Malawi media is independent and progressing 30 years after
signing the Windhoek Declaration.
On his part, Chimgwede noted the media in the country is progressing well as evidenced by the mushrooming of media houses and professional journalists.
He said: “We have created our own big media in the country. We are way beyond what Zambia used to do when we were signing the declaration.”
However, Chimgwede observed that there are some areas that need to be addressed to ensure the local media is a fully independent organ.
He also said certain legislations stifle the media while journalists continue being intimidated by some public officers either while pursuing a story or after publishing what is perceived to be a negative story against them or their institutions.
“We still have ministers now who attack journalists or media institutions if they see a negative headline. This must stop,” said Chimgwede.
On his part, Kampondeni acknowledged that some public officers attack journalists but was quick to say “that is not in the government policy to attack journalists”.
He said such reactions were not an expression of government’s policy but the public officials abusing their offices.
Said Kampondeni: “When a journalist publishes a story about me as a government official, for example, if I pick up a phone and start insulting that journalist, that is me abusing my office.
“So, we still have cases of public officials that have not been fully oriented on what it means to treat the press. They don’t appreciate these freedoms instead they jump to react to those things even though that is counter to government policy.
“So there is still a lot of work to do to get all government officials to understand that intimidation of the press is not only counter to government policy but it is also counter to tenets of this declaration of freedom.”
Earlier in a statement, Ndanga called for government to end threats, attacks and arbitrary arrests of journalists.
She said Misa has noted that journalists, who were supposed to be a source of reliable information, are under unwarranted attack from authorities, State institutions and sometimes, the public.
Said Ndanga: “Since January 2020, 20 journalists have been physically assaulted, threatened, arbitrarily detained and questioned in the line of duty, a development that threatens the constitutionally guaranteed media freedom.
“These attacks do not only create fear in journalists but have the potential of compromising the quality of information, as they force journalists to self-censor.”
Speaking when he joined in the celebrations, Vice- President Saulos Chilima said he recognises the important work Malawi media is doing in offering checks and balances, helping in nurturing the country ’s democracy and speaking for the voiceless.
In a statement signed by his press officer Pilirani Phiri, the Vice- President said he values journalists for exposing corruption, injustices and hardships experienced by some citizens whose voices are silenced or ignored.
World Press Freedom Day is celebrated on May 3 to commemorate journalists and highlight the difficulties they face in their day to day work.