Media Institute of Africa (Misa) Malawi chapter took advantage of the 2016 media awards gala in Mangochi District on Saturday night to pressurise government to withdraw an ‘adulterated’ Access to Information (ATI) Bill from Parliament and replace it with the original version.
Misa Malawi Chairperson, Thom Khanje, reiterated that the ATI Bill as gazetted falls well below standard as the Cabinet grossly adulterated it and the Bill no longer reflects the needs of the stakeholders, including the media.
“Among other things, the bill was made inferior to the Official Secrets Act, imposes unreasonable fines and jail sentences for undefined abuse of information, gives too much implementation and enforcement powers to the Minister of Information and does not contain independence oversight and redress mechanisms – among other things.
“Hon. minister, we once again appeal to the government to withdraw the bill as gazetted from Parliament and replace it with the original draft as presented to the government by the stakeholders and thoroughly scrutinized and passed by officials from your ministry, lawyers from the Ministry of Justice, a committee of principal secretaries as well as the cabinet committee on legal affairs,” Khanje said.
He said the bill as originally drafted was one of the best in the world as a Canadian-based media institute ranked it 15th best in world but it will not be surprising if the current version was ranked one of or the worst.
Apart from accusing the government of resisting Communi c a t ions Act amendment aimed at taking Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and Malawi Regulatory Authority off the political hook, Khanje said almost two year since Misa requested President Peter Mutharika to sign the Table Mountain Declaration, the institute has not yet received a response.
“We are still eagerly awaiting that as it is key to efforts to get insult and archaic laws that threaten media freedom in Malawi repealed. By signing the Table Mountain Declaration, the president would be making a bold commitment to start the process of repealing these unacceptable laws,” he said.
But Minister of Information, Communications Technology and Civic Education, Patricia Kaliati, who started her speech on the defensive, indicated that the government is not ready to bow down to the demands, accusing Misa of contradicting itself on the ATI bill.
“You have been saying you need to see the bill in Parliament and this government has tried its best to take it to Parliament. Now you are telling us to withdraw it from Parliament. What is it that you want then? Don’t you think you are contradicting yourselves? Anyway, we can do as you wish because it seems you don’t care whether the bill will be tabled in 2024 or not,” Kaliati said.
She also said the bill considered the interests of different stakeholders, but the media practitioners want the bill to address their problems while leaving out others.
“Although the government is committed to guaranteeing media freedom and freedom of expression, that freedom needs to be enjoyed with responsibility. We cannot just say here is your media freedom without considering the freedom of other people. We also need to ensure that other people enjoy their freedom as you enjoy yours,” she said.
According to Kaliati, MBC is not used for political propaganda but some people and institutions do not invite reporters from the public broadcaster due to mindset problems.
“Some people never invite MBC to their functions, saying reporters from MBC attend functions for propaganda reasons but same people complain that the station is covering and favouring the ruling party. We need to change that thinking and start inviting MBC to our activities because the station is there for all of us,” Kaliati said in an after gala interview.
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