Women Lawyers Association (WLA) has come under criticism from media experts for attacking the profession for alleged false reporting on the Msundwe police investigation report.
The reactions follow sentiments by WLA in a statement dated August 16 accusing the media of championing a false narrative on the police investigation report which casts doubts on sexual assault claims by victims in the matter.
The statement signed by WLA board chairperson Maureen Kachingwe, accuses the media of being sensational in its reporting on the police report and described such reporting as unprofessional.
Reads the statement in part: “This story has diverted attention from the perpetrators of the heinous crimes and now exposed the victims focused to unwarranted attacks and ridicule at a time when the investigations are still ongoing.”
WLA’s statement comes against the background of a story published by Times Group’s Malawi News edition of Saturday which highlighted contents of the police report that says Msundwe victims were persuaded by politicians and a lawyer and that the rape claims were untrue.
The statement describes the reporting as defying basic journalistic standards and ethics which makes it easy for such a news story to perpetuate gender-based violence.
The WLA’s statement says the story was published without asking deeper investigative questions and further claims that it made personal attacks on WLA members who worked with the victims without being given the chance of reply.
The statement further says the association will not tolerate any defamatory remarks, and the media must not be compromised in its reporting stressing that it will jeopardies fresh investigations.
In July this year, the WLA, Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and police signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on a fresh probe into the matter on the basis that the previous report had gaps that needed to be addressed.
But while emphasising that publicity of the report casts doubts on police commitment regarding the fresh probe, the association says any sentiments that its involvement on the matter is politically motivated a serious attack on its independence.
Meanwhile, the sentiments have attracted mixed reactions from media experts who have expressed different opinions on the matter.
Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences (Muba) head of Journalism Department Jolly Ntaba said the there was no sensationalism on the matter.
He said: “My professional take is that there was no sensationalism. At least the newspaper tried to reach out to the WLA so maybe that was a bit problematic on the approach of the WLA that there was sensationalism.”
However, Ntaba said the in an ideal situation, the article would have been premised on the fact that there is a fresh investigation on the matter since it was agreed by both parties on the matter.
Blantyre-based media expert Nelson Nyirenda also said it was not fair for the WLA to entirely blame the media on the matter.
He said: “As one of the media trainers, I would say the media believes in professionalism and I do believe that if a police report was quoted, the media was just trying to bring into the fore what that report established.
“If at all there was bias, it was not the media that was biased but perhaps the report and the media cannot be entirely faulted.”
Nyirenda, who is also a journalism lecturer at Blantyre International University said if the WLA feels appalled, the best approach is to engage the media.
It is alleged that police officers went on rampage at Msundwe, Mpingu and M’bwatalika in the outskirts of Lilongwe City where they allegedly raped and sexually assaulted some women in the areas.
The incident occurred following the stoning of a police officer, Suwedi Iman, by residents during protests that ensued in the aftermath of the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections