The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) on Monday 25 June 2012 met Malawi President, Her Excellency, Mrs. Joyce Banda at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre, Malawi's second largest city. The meeting was also attended by the Media Council of Malawi and selected media managers in the country.
President Banda was congratulated for the key decision she took to repeal Section 46 of the Penal Code, a piece of legislation that previously allowed a cabinet minister to ban any publication deemed not in the public interest. Another positive development that was noted is the removal of value-added tax (VAT) on newsprint.
However, the meeting also drew the president's attention to several other key issues that are relevant to how the media in Malawi can function more effectively in the nascent democracy. These include the passing of an access to information law, a draft bill of which has been under consideration for the past eight years; the removal of customs duty on broadcasting equipment; broadcast reforms at state broadcaster, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC); re-constitution of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) board; and improvement of the conditions under which media conferences are held.
Speaking at a press conference after the meeting at Sanjika Palace, MISA Regional Director, Zoe Titus, said the delegation was very pleased with the engagement with President Banda and was optimistic about the future of media freedom and freedom of expression in Malawi. "We got the impression that President Banda is very open to pushing an agenda for media reform," said Titus.
At the same press conference, chairperson of the Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Malawi), Anthony Kasunda said they had received several assurances from the president, a positive development given the country's recent history. One such assurance, Kasunda said, was that journalists would be able to choose the conditions under which the President would hold media conferences. Previously, journalists have been intimidated and heckled for asking "the wrong questions" at presidential media conferences.
MISA wishes to thank President Banda for her expression of sincerity towards the need for a free and independent media in a democracy and also in fostering a consolidated development agenda in Malawi. We believe that this is a great first step and we encourage the President to follow through the assurances she has given.
However, in the absence of clearly-defined and progressive legislation such as an access to information law, development in Malawi will be long in coming and democracy will be perpetually under threat from a political class that is afraid of scrutiny and intent on keeping the citizenry - the actual beneficiaries of promotion of access to information - in the dark.
MISA will continue to engage all relevant stakeholders in order to ensure that the media in Malawi, and the rest of the southern Africa region, are free.
Zoe Titus, MISA Regional Director
Anthony Kasunda, MISA-Malawi Chairperson