Hon. Folk, on New Year’s Day the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter issued its first ever assessment of the gains and losses for media freedom in the country, among others.
Although Misa Malawi covered only the first six months of the MCP-led Tonse government coalition under President Lazarus Chakwera and Vice-President Saulos Chilima, the evaluation contains critical facets that remind Malawians that there is no time to relax as there are still chances of democratic reversal if everybody dozes off.
Firstly, just like the report noted, it is sensible to commend the current administration for operationalising the Access to Information (ATI) law that will give media practitioners access to information from public offices, which has remained a tall order since the country gained independence from Britain in 1964.
Prior to its passing in September last year, the ATI law had gathered mounds of dust on the shelves at Capital Hill for the past 17 years due to lack of political will by previous governments and we join Misa Malawi in urging the authorities to build on this landmark to complete the process to gazette the ATI regulations.
However, in just under a year, media practitioners in the country—especially those in frontline journalism—have not had a joy ride as some senior government officials and their supporters have tried to undo some key gains that the country has struggled to achieve in over the past 26 years since attaining multiparty democracy.
Among the violations laid down by the media watchdog were intimidation and threats on journalists by some overzealous government and Tonse alliance agents—including Cabinet ministers who feel they now have what it takes to attack, harass and ostracise journalists to stop them from being critical of the government.
Hon. Folks, one thing that these folks in Tonse government forgot alongside their social media political militias is that party administrations come and go while the government, including the media which is the fourth arm of the government, will always prosper.
Just a split second looking over the shoulder, once instantly retains in high definition sequence scores of sponsored ruffians who savagely harassed critics and political opponents alike just to please their political masters in a bid to gain short-term favours.
Today, many of these people are languishing in abject misery because their political masters that used to reward them financially or with temporary employment in government under past regimes lost their authority.
Hon. Folks, another fact that is clearer today is that millions of Malawians continue to suffer the huge consequences of poverty, corruption and nepotism augmented by failed political systems that have reigned in Malawi since independence.
This is why every citizen today has a role to play in developing this nation from various fields of occupation without anyone feeling an obsessive need to exercise control over others thinking they can take command of any situation. This includes some reckless hooligans serving the Tonse coalition government in various portfolios.
When UDF won the first democratic elections in May 1994, Malawians tasked the new democratic government with setting up the foundations of our democracy, including a new Constitution that provided many rights, including freedom of association and that of expression which is widely enjoyed by the media.
However, although the idea of choice is something which all the citizens have embraced, accepted and benefited from over the past 25 years, Malawi is still at pains to move forward and away from certain elements that are essentially anti-democratic.
As one professor said the other day, it is very difficult for such elements—especially those who are still wedded to conventional ways of doing things—to accept the principles of multiparty politics and constitutional guarantees that came along with democracy although they may have embraced such changes at one point or another.
Hon. Folks, Malawi does not need individuals or groups of people who can conspire to gaslight others simply because they hold a different view particularly at this day and age—virtually a quarter century into the current democratic dispensation.