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Malawi tumbles on press freedom index

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The World Press Freedom Index that Reporters Without Borders (RWB) released on Wednesday shows that Malawi has tumbled seven places on media freedom.

The country has moved from position 59 in 2015 to 66 out of 180 countries this year.

The World Press Freedom Index which RWB has been publishing since 2002 is regarded as an important advocacy tool based on the principle of emulation between states.

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“After Bingu wa Mutharika was elected president in 2004, freedom of information improved in Malawi and the number of abuses against reporters fell. Nonetheless, arbitrary police violence continues and journalists covering police operations sometimes find their equipment being seized or they may even be roughed up. A law still provides for the imprisonment of those who “insult” the head of state,” the index’s statement on Malawi said.

Minister of Information and Civic Education, Patricia Kaliati, said the index provides an opportunity to both the government and the media to strategise on how best the media freedom challenges can be addressed.

“It is the responsibility of both you and me to improve on those issues. When you talk about rights, they also have responsibilities. Reporters have responsibilities, the government has also responsibilities. So, it is a win-win situation with your support. If we do that we meet at the middle and see what should be done to improve on that,” Kaliati said.

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Kaliati, however, said it is pleasing to note that some people are now able to recognise the good works of the late Bingu wa Mutharika which media and some people in the country tarnished.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chairperson, Thom Khanje, said the tumbling is not surprising if the press freedom developments of the past 12 months are to be considered.

Khanje cited the government’s reluctant to enact Access to Information (ATI) and Communications Act (Amendment) Bills despite several promises as good examples of how bad the country can be on press freedom.

He also said the arrests of some people who were suspected to have insulted the president in the past months played a role in the ranking.

Khanje, who said the index has a bearing on how people across the world view Malawi not only in media freedom but also other sectors in the economy, called on government to fast-track the passing of the two bills and abandon archaic laws on insults.

The Index is based on an evaluation of media freedom that measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries.

It is compiled by means of a questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts all over the world and this qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.

“Most of the movement in the World Press Freedom Index unveiled today by Reporters Without Borders is indicative of a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests,” the overall statement reads.

The Index is not an indicator of the quality of the journalism in each country, nor does it rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking.

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