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Editorial CommentOpinion & Analysis

Celebrating press freedom cautiously

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It is that time of the year again when the Malawi media and, indeed, those who respect and cherish fundamental human rights of free press and freedom of expression join the international community today in reflecting on this noble profession through the World Press Freedom Day.

This is the day when the media take stock of the profession through a candid reflection of strides made, stumbling blocks faced, lessons learnt, threats faced and opportunities ahead.

As we celebrate this day, we do not want to lose sight of the fact that many members of this noble profession are, elsewhere, now languishing in jail, have been maimed and others have sacrificed their lives on the altar of this profession we all treasure.

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This is the day when we salute fellow men and women, who in the line of duty demonstrated unwavering courage in the face of adversity to hold those in authority accountable by asking difficult questions, bringing matters to their logical conclusion and indeed, expose those who abuse power in society to trample on the rights of the poor, the voiceless and the marginalised.

In Malawi, we celebrate this day with a measure of hope for no journalist is in jail and no media house has so far been closed for simply doing their job.

Such a relative conducive environment for the Malawi media does not happen by chance.

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It demonstrates the government’s level of commitment to ensuring free press and freedom of expression which is enshrined in the Constitution.

This is evidenced by media watchdog, Reporters Without Boarders’ (RSF) index released last Wednesday, indicating that Malawi has, on freedom to inform rankings, improved from position 70 to now 64 out of 180 countries.

The increase has been attributed to President Peter Mutharika’s passing and assenting of the Access to Information Law.

However, we refuse to throw caution to the wind because there are still some subtle ways which free speech and freedom of expression is been muzzled.

Access to information in higher corridors of power remains a nightmare due to traces of executive arrogance.

There are many public officers who give a black-out on sections of the media deemed too critical.

The state machinery has found a systematic way of stifling the media through economic sanctions using state agencies and parastatals.

Indeed, while we commend the country’s leadership for allowing people to criticise it in whatever way, the evident lack of tolerance on such critics suggest that there is still a long way to go to ultimate media freedom.

In short, strides have been made on free press and freedom of expression but there is big room for improvement.

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