By Mandy Pondani & Audrey Kapalamula:
President Lazarus Chakwera has challenged Cabinet ministers and government officials, including those working at the State House, to exercise self-restraint in case they feel aggrieved by journalists.
Chakwera said this at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe Tuesday when he hosted journalists and public relations practitioners.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa)-Malawi Chairperson Teresa Ndanga led the practitioners to the palace as one way of commemorating World Press Freedom Day, which falls on May 3.
Chakwera said freedom of expression and freedom of the press needed to be protected and defended in the digital era, citing public servants and State actors as some of the people that needed to be careful in how they react to news reports they distaste.
“Our first step in that task relates to our own behaviour, especially as it relates to how we react to someone who exercises these rights. We must each regulate ourselves to ensure that any time a journalist publishes something or a social commentator says something, we never react in a manner that infringes on their freedom to do so.
“This principle of self-restraint applies to me, every public official, every agency of the State and every citizen,” Chakwera said.
The Malawi leader said freedom of the press and freedom of expression meant that, from time to time, someone would write or say things that offend or embarrass those in authority but cautioned that that did not mean anyone had a licence to “deal” with the suspected offender.
“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, 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,” he said.
Ndanga hailed Chakwera for running what she called an open government and the operationalisation of the Access to Information Act but said there were some areas that needed improvement.
“There still is continued physical and verbal abuse of journalists by police, Cabinet ministers and the general public. It is sad that no one has been prosecuted or taken to task for attacking a journalist who was doing their job; this is an issue of concern to us,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) asked the government and its agencies to stop putting journalists and their sources under surveillance.
MHRC further asked the government to work together with journalists to discuss emerging challenges in a bid to safeguard press freedom.
In a statement, the commission’s chairperson Scader Louis urged policymakers, telecommunications companies and cyber security experts, among others, to join the conversation.
“The commission would like to remind the government of its commitment to uphold the rule of law and protect the rights of its citizens enshrined in the Constitution of the country.
“Surveillance and hacking put journalists, their work and sources at risk, violating the fundamental principles of whistleblower and source protection,” Scader said.
She said the government and other stakeholders needed to protect media freedom in an era social media surveillance was becoming a norm.
Scader also challenged journalists to uphold ethics to sustain public trust.
The television has remained relevant since its establishment and has been scooping Misa- Malawi’s Electronic Media [Television] of the Year award since 2015.
Local journalists will mark events marking World Press Freedom Day on Saturday, May 7.