Friday, 9th October 2015
The Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Malawi) is concerned with the remarks made by President Arthur Peter Mutharika (APM) against the media during a press conference he addressed at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe on Thursday, October 8, 2015.
During the press conference, the president described the media in Malawi as “irresponsible” and “agents of the opposition” for criticizing his trip to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, United States of America over the size of his entourage, hiring of a private jet and the level of expenditure incurred in the wake of economic problems prevailing in the country.
The president even asked for an apology from some media houses over stories on the trip and fell short of specifying what action he would take should the apologies not come forward. As if that was not enough, Mutharika’s Press Secretary Gerald Viola also attacked one unspecified radio station, accusing it of having a hidden agenda against the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government.
We find the remarks by the President and his press secretary retrogressive and a threat to media freedom and freedom of expression. We are surprised that the president decided to target the media with unreasonable attacks instead of responding to the issues at hand and providing information Malawians are looking for regarding the trip to the UNGA.
Attacks on the media are attacks on democracy and should not be condoned.
MISA Malawi would like to appeal to the President and the State House Press Office to desist from being in the forefront in attacking the media for doing its job. The media has a duty to report and inform Malawians on matters of national importance.
We believe the President’s concerns could easily be addressed by ensuring that government is proactive in disseminating information and enacting the Access to Information Bill (ATI) and ensure that Malawians have accurate and relevant information to make informed decisions. Secrecy and lack of information, as has been the case with the president’s trip to the UNGA, only creates room for speculation and rumor mongering.
The trip by the president to the UNGA was funded by tax-payers and Malawians have every right to know how their money is being spent by those charged with the responsibility of managing the resources. And the media has constitutional duty of holding the government accountable in the way they use public funds and how they are governing the country in general.
We therefore appeal to the State President to always be transparent and accountable as he discharges his duties. He should also respect the role of the media in providing checks and balances on his government. Where he has concerns, they can be channeled through relevant media bodies for their review and adjudication.
The approach taken during the press
conference at State House creates an impression that government is taking systematic steps to suffocate the media, thereby strangling our young democracy in the process. That cannot be condoned in a democratic Malawi.
CHAIRPERSON, MISA MALAWI