Chakwera pledges protection of the constitution and media freedom

Chakwera has a chat with journalist Madalitso Phiri of Zodiak Broadcasting Station

* Section 36 says that the press shall have the right to report and publish freely

* Within Malawi and abroad and to be accorded the fullest possible facilities for access to public information

* Need for restraint in the way people react to news as it has to be done in a manner that does not infringe upon the freedom of the press

* This principle of self-restraint applies to me, every public official, every agency of the state, and every citizen

By Nellie Kapatuka, MANA

At the State House breakfast which the Head of State, Lazarus Chakwera hosted to mark the commemoration of the 2022 World Press Freedom Day on Tuesday, the President emphasized his commitment to preserve and defend the country’s Constitution and freedom of the media.

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Celebrated at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe, Chakwera said his administration is more committed to ensuring that journalists in the country are protected at all cost as required by the Constitution — especially in the digital age where many people access information through social media.

He added that it is necessary and prudent to regard Section 36 as the identical twin of Section 35, which guarantees every person the right to freedom of expression.

“I am, of course, referring to Section 36, which says that the press shall have the right to report and publish freely, within Malawi and abroad, and to be accorded the fullest possible facilities for access to public information.”

The President also highlighted on the need for restraint in the way people react to news, saying it has to be done in a manner that does not infringe upon the freedom of the press.

“This principle of self-restraint applies to me, every public official, every agency of the state, and every citizen.

“Freedom of the press and freedom of expression means that from time to time someone will write or say things that offend or embarrass us, but that does not give any of us the license to deal with them.

“We too can write and say something to defend ourselves, and if we feel our name and reputation has been unjustly defamed, we can even complain to regulatory bodies and the courts that follow strict rules of justice.

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“But we must never seek to harm those who offend us in this way or try to deprive them of their freedom through illegal searches, seizures, arrests, or invasive acts like hacking, harassment, and cyber-bullying. These things have no place in a free country.”

He has since urged journalists to take charge of their work and never allow their noble work to be corrupted and left in the open for attack.

Last month, the Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka-Nyirenda had a hand in the arrest of one of the country’s revered investigative journalist, Gregory Gondwe — which he later apologised through MISA Malawi.

Attorney General Chakaka Nyirenda

Gregory Gondwe, one of the country’s revered journalists

In arresting Gregory, the police used unorthodox tactics that included detaining his sister to enquire from her of her brother’s whereabouts but all the while, Gregory was not a fugitive and the police seemed to know of where to find him at his Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) offices in Blantyre where he is the managing director.

Gregory was detained for over six hours over a story PIJ published on March 30 which reported issues to do with the AG’s decision on government’s contracts with businessman Zuneth Sattar, who is under the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) investigation.

He was later released on bail but the police kept in custody his electronic gadgets that they confiscated and while it was MISA Malawi that announced that the AG had apologised for the arrest, the public expected it from the AG himself.

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Others even demanded that the best apology is for the AG to resign from his position — saying what he ordered the police to do was not a blunder but a planned masterpiece to muzzle the press.

At the State House breakfast, Minister of Information and Digitalization, Gospel Kazako urged journalists in the country to exercise their media freedom with diligence.

Kazako the Access to Information (ATI) Act is fully operational and that despite the present challenges, there is hope for free media.

MISA Malawi chairperson Theresa Ndanga

While commending government for being media friendly — citing the operationalization of the ATI; weekly State House briefings and government’s face the press as good platforms for journalists to probe more of what is happening in the country, MISA Malawi chairperson Theresa Ndanga said there are still some grey areas that the government needs to improve on.

She said media censorship is an infringement of press freedom, saying it defeats the whole purpose of having the ATI in place.

This is the first time in the country’s history for a sitting President to join journalists in the commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day, which falls on May 3 every year.


The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 to be
World Press Freedom Day observed to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and marking the anniversary of Windhoek Declaration — a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in Windhoek in 1991.

The day celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

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The UNESCO marks World Press Freedom Day by conferring the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Prize on a deserving individual, organisation or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world — especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger.

Created in 1997, the prize is awarded on the recommendation of an independent jury of 14 news professionals. Names are submitted by regional and international non-governmental organisations working for press freedom and by UNESCO member states.

The Prize is named in honour of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper, El Espectador in Bogota on December 17, 1986. Cano’s writings had offended Colombia’s powerful drug barons.

UNESCO also marks World Press Freedom Day each year by bringing together media professionals, press freedom organisations and UN agencies to assess the state of press freedom worldwide and discuss solutions for addressing challenges.

Each conference is centred on a theme related to press freedom, including good governance, media coverage of terrorism, impunity and the role of media in post-conflict countries.—Additional reporting by Duncan Mlanjira, Maravi Express

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