Let free speech flourish


Let me begin by wishing all media practitioners in the country, all the best as they celebrate the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD). The United Nations declared May 3 as the WPFD to allow the free world celebrate the role that the free media and free speech activists play in nurturing democracy.

To add the icing to the cake, the Reporters Without Borders or the Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) has commended Malawi for entrenching press freedom and free speech by passing the Access to Information Act (ATI).

This is the first time in ages that Malawi received kudos from the free world for protecting the free speech and free press. But what we need is that ATI should not only be on paper but should translate on the ground.


In essence the ATI aims to give every person, including the media, unfettered access to any information held by the State or its organs, as far as that information is necessary for the exercise of their freedom. It claw bars to Section 37 of the Malawi Constitution which doles out such a right. However, that right was hardly attainable as there was no enabling act of Parliament.

Free press and free speech are the hallmarks of a free society. Most countries in the developed world ensure that their media and their people enjoy freedom of expression.

Until the terror attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001 also known as the 9/11 attack by the Islamic terrorist group, al- Qaeda- we as journalists, used to enjoy so much freedom in the US and Europe.


We were allowed entry to any building or place of world significance without let or hindrance. We were even ushered in places without pay or on half pay just to enable us get the information and inform the world.

To show how dearly they held free speech and free press, the first amendment the Americans made to their constitution was not to give their president more power but to give their media and citizens the right to free expression.

The review, rightly known as the First Amendment, prevents the Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion, prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or to petition for a governmental redress of grievances.

Today, any American can walk into any government organ and demand information without giving any other reason but the First Amendment.

Hugo Lafayette Black, an American politician and jurist once said: “The framers of the Constitution knew that free speech is the friend of change and revolution. But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny.

“Criticism of government finds sanctuary in several portions of the First Amendment. It is part of the right of free speech. It embraces freedom of the press. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam War, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the founders hoped and trusted they would do.”

Black also said “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell… The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our republic”.

Even former US president, Thomas Jefferson, said if he were to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”.

A German-born American political philosopher, Hanna Arendt also galvanises the right to free speech and free press in a thriving democracy.

She says: “The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.

“This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie—a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days—but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows…”

As we celebrate WPFD, let us remember that we did not invent democracy; we only adopted its values from the free world. Applying democracy as and when it suits us has no place in the global village. We either be democrats or not.

Let us accept that freedom of expression is an inalienable right of every human being. It does not apply more to those in power and less to those holding different views.

The beauty of democracy lies in the diversity of opinion and speech. Happy World Press Freedom Day to all journalists, free speech activists and all genuine democrats in Malawi.


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