State House has warned Malawian journalists, editors and human rights defenders that they risk facing unspecified action if they continue 'twisting information' and in the process discrediting president Bingu wa Mutharika.
In a statement issued on Friday, March 9 2012, State House claimed it was aware that some journalists, editors and human rights activists were deliberately distorting statements and actions by president Mutharika with the intention of misinforming the nation thereby stirring unnecessary panic among Malawians and bringing anarchy in the country.
"Some print and electronic media houses have found solace in misinforming their audiences on actions and statements by the State President. The State House has further observed that certain papers refer to the Head of State as the 'big kahuna' or 'Moya'. This is demeaning our own Head of State and no sensible and sound journalist would propagate such reportage. This MUST stop forthwith," reads part of the statement.
Two columnists who contribute to newspapers published by Blantyre Newspapers Limited and Nation Publications Limited, Raphael Tenthani and Edward Chitsulo use the phrases 'big Kahuna' and 'Moya' respectively. Also, radio talk shows hosted by privately-owned media such as, Capital Radio, Zodiak Broadcasting Station, Joy Radio and Malawi Institute of Journalism are among those the statement alludes to.
State House has quoted Section 3(2) of the protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act which states that;
"Any person who does any act or utters any words or publishes any writing calculated to or liable to insult or to show disrespect to or with respect to or with reference to the President shall be liable to a fine of 1000 pounds and to imprisonment for two (2) years."
The statement from State House comes at a time when President Mutharika has on several occasions alleged that some civil society organisations in the country were secretly meeting and planning to topple his administration. The president has also been on record as having branded some privately owned media houses as pro-opposition.
State house has further alleged that some editors and reporters are offered money by opposition political party leaders, donors and leaders of some civil society organisations to deliberately distort information, insult the Head of State and cause panic in the country.
The statement further reads " certain phone-in programmes designed by some media houses have offered a platform for callers to castigate or insult the Head of State. Anchors of such programmes have often found fun as the Head of State is being ridiculed in public. This too is unacceptable and the State House is not amused at all."
State house has made reference to recent headlines in Malawian newspapers such as 'Bingu gets grilled, Government barks at nothing, An arrogant Bingu', as sensational and irresponsible writing designed to provoke certain quarters of the society.
Commenting on the State House press statement, Chairperson of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter, Anthony Kasunda, said: "as MISA Malawi, we are greatly shocked with the threats that have come from the highest office of the land. The issues raised in the statement do not in any way warrant such a strong warning of arrest. The media in Malawi, as far as the Chapter is concerned, are doing a commendable job. Government or indeed the State House should have lodged a complaint with us or the Media Council of Malawi. MISA Malawi is at the moment consulting concerned stakeholders to map the way forward."
Meanwhile, Kasunda has appealed to media practitioners and media houses in Malawi not to feel intimidated by the threats from State House. "As long as the media remains professional, we shall always exercise and enjoy freedom of expression and media freedom as stipulated in the supreme law of the land, the Constitution," he said.