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Malawi improves on free press ranking

Malawi has done well on press freedom global rankings this year, according to media watchdog, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF).

The report comes as Malawian journalists join the international community to commemorate World Press Freedom Day, today.

In a latest index released yesterday, RSF says Malawi is now ranked 64 this year down from 70 last year out of 180 countries. This, the report states, is because of the passing of the Access to Information (ATI) law by Parliament which was assented to by President Peter Mutharika.

“A law allowing journalists to request information about elected officials and government institutions finally came into effect in February 2017, more than 12 years after it was first raised.

“Nonetheless, a law still provides for the imprisonment of those who ‘insult’ the Head of State,” reads the report in part.

On the world stage, the index reflects growing animosity towards journalists.

“More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion,” reads the report in part.

Government spokesperson, Nicholas Dausi, said this is a collective achievement that the country needs to cherish.

“We should all be proud of the achievement where we can now say in Malawi, there is an observance of freedom of the press moving it [Malawi] to an open society with vibrant democracy. The press should at all cost be left to work professionally,” he said.

Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chairperson, Teresa Ndanga, said while this shows something is being done in upholding media freedom the justification for the improvement does not match what is on the ground.

Ndanga cited delays in implementation of the ATI law, almost a year after Mutharika assented to it.

“The justification by the report is mainly because of the ATI. If you look at how the law is operating, there is essentially nothing on the ground. When you check with Malawi Human Rights Commission they will tell you everything that takes for the law to roll out has been concluded and they are just waiting for the ministry [of Information] to give it a date.

“The Ministry of Information is always saying there are some logistical challenges that are being worked on. Honestly, I am not convinced with what is happening,” she said.

For Malawian journalists, celebrations marking the day will start tomorrow followed by media awards at a gala dinner on Saturday evening in Blantyre.

Ndanga said despite the improvement, some journalists have been subjected to abuse citing a sports reporter and presenter at Gaka Community Radio Station, Moyenda Fabiano, who was beaten by political party supporters at a political rally at Bangula in Nsanje last October.

Some journalists, were also barred from covering a conference on the Implementation of the Public Sector Reforms in Lilongwe among other abuses.

RSF has been publishing the World Press Freedom Index annually since 2002.

The index measures the level of media freedom in 180 countries, including the level of pluralism, media independence, the environment and self-censorship, the legal framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.

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