Lusaka, 25 June 2018: Panos Institute Southern Africa strongly condemns the growing harassment of journalists and independent media houses, especially by the police and other state agents in Malawi. Panos views any harassment of the media reverses the gains the country had recorded in its quest for media freedom, culminating in the enactment of the Access to Information Act in 2016.
Panos reiterates that journalism is not a crime. The media plays an important role in facilitating development at local, national and international level. The media provides a platform for citizens to engage with each other on development issues of concern to them, and enables citizens to dialogue with duty bearers and other stakeholders, thereby contributing to improved participation of citizens in decision making. The media provides a reliable and effective channel for the flow of information between citizens, duty bearers and other stakeholders in the development process.
The Constitution of Malawi clearly provides for and guarantees media freedom. Section 37 of the Constitution states that all citizens have “the right of access to all information held by the State or any of its organs at any level of Government in so far as such information is required for the exercise of his rights”. We therefore remind the Police that they have a duty, a constitutional obligation, to protect journalists, not to hinder them from doing their work.
It is our view that any attack or harassment of journalists or media houses is not only a violation of the media’s freedom to seek and share information, but is also an infringement on the citizens’ democratic right to seek, receive and share information through their preferred platforms. The media is rightly referred to as the fourth estate in any democratic establishment – keeping checks on the legislative, judiciary and executive arms of government. The media is an important enabler of participation in democratic processes, and when it is threatened, the citizens’ right to participate is also threatened or undermined.
A recent example of the media harassment was recorded on Friday, 22 June 2018 when police officers beat-up two journalists from Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), an independent broadcasting media house that has established itself as a reliable source of news for many Malawians. ZBS announced on Twitter that the police had beaten up two of their reporters Musase Cheyo and Towera Mkandawire “as they went about doing their job covering the fracas between the police and vendors”. The beatings resulted in the two media practitioners being taken to Mzuzu Health Centre for treatment. We are taken aback that this is happening at a time when the ink has not even dried on the President’s signature on the Access to Information Act, which among other things has clear provisions for journalists to access and disseminate public information.
Panos appeals to the government of Malawi to expedite the implementation of the Access to Information Act, which we hope will address some of the challenges journalists face in accessing information, particularly information held by public entities. We also appeal to the Malawi Police Service to sensitise their officers on the role of journalists in the country’s development, and the importance of media freedom in the country’s development. We also encourage our partners in the media sector to stand strong and unite against this growing harassment. As a media support and communication for development organisation, we will continue to engage with the government and other stakeholders in Malawi to ensure that such harassment of journalists does not recur.
Lilian Saka Kiefer
Executive Director, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf)
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: +260978778148/9