The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum have written Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika asking him to end his governmentâ€™s campaign of intimidation of the press.
The global body has also asked Mutharika to take all necessary steps to ensure that in future, the country fully observes international standards of freedom of expression.
â€œWe respectfully remind you of your obligations to ensure that your country fully observes its international commitments to freedom of expression, including those made under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoplesâ€™ Rights, to which Malawi became a signatory in 1989,â€ reads the letter dated March 22 2012 addressed to Mutharika.
The letter is signed by the president of WAN-IFRA, Jacob Mathew and president of World Editors Forum Erik Bjerager.
Adds the letter: â€œWe also remind you that it is the duty of the state to provide an environment in which journalists are able to carry out their professional duties without fear of violence, and that the government has a duty to protect, not intimidate, journalists.
Your governmentâ€™s campaign against critical media has contributed to a climate of fear among journalists, a situation which promotes self-censorship. We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.â€
Presidential spokesperson Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba said he was in a meeting when called to comment on the letter. He advised to be called later.
The bases of WAN-IFRA â€™s letter are the warning DPP director of youth Frank Mwenifumbo gave on March 11 2012 to civil servants not to read and advertise in Nation Publications Limited papers and the appeal on 10 March by Health Minister Jean Kalirani to Malawians living in the UK that they should not read the UK-based news website Nyasa Times, which is also critical of the government.
WAN-IFRA also mentions the threats by DPP officials to arrest journalists for any reporting deemed to be insulting Mutharika, citing the March 9 2012 State House statement signed by Albert Mungomo which accused the media of insulting Mutharika and distorting his statements and actions to misinform and confuse the nation.
â€œIn order to quell the Malawian mediaâ€™s â€œimpudenceâ€, the statement warned journalists that the government could imprison and fine
journalists for airing or publishing material that insults or disrespects the President. Furthermore, an amendment to the penal code empowers the Information Minister to ban any publication she deems not to be in the public interest,â€ reads the letter.
Another instance is about Information and Civic Education Minister Patricia Kaliatiâ€™s attack on freelance journalist Gregory Gondwe whom
she accused of having a personal vendetta against her after criticising her in an article.
Kaliati warned Gondwe that this was to be the last time he wrote anything about her and that she would not be hesitant in future to take unspecified action against him.
WAN-IFRA is a global organisation for the worldâ€™s newspapers and news publishers, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The organisation groups 18 000 publications, 15 000 online sites and over 3 000 companies in more than 120 countries.