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Media rise against government’s intimidation

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Media owners and managers have vowed not to abdicate their responsibility of making the country’s leaders accountable, saying should President Peter Mutharika and government officials continue intimidating the media, they will resort to lawful means of protest.

They have cited such measures as respecting and implementing guidelines and decisions of Media Council of Malawi (MCM) and Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi, recourse to the courts of law, boycotting Mutharika’s press conferences, blackouts of all news of Mutharika and his cabinet ministers.

They have also declared that they will move the courts to seek interpretation on the role of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) which they say behaves like a police officer, prosecutor, juror and judge in regulating and policing private electronic media.

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The issues have been raised in a document which has been dubbed Mount Soche Declaration. It has been issued after a meeting seven media houses, MCM and Misa Malawi chapter had at Sunbird Mount Soche in Blantyre yesterday.

According to the declaration, the media houses have said they will not be derailed in their responsibilities by the attacks Mutharika and other Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) sympathisers have been directing to the media.

In a declaration the signatories say they have the responsibility to give people information they need to make informed decisions.

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“Inspired by promises of successive Heads of State to uphold freedom of the press and to conduct their press conferences in atmospheres that would be free of intimidation of political party supporters, we believe we have a moral responsibility to work with our elected Governments and to perform to the best of our ability in an ethical, fair and balanced manner, our noble task as the Fourth Estate, to ensure separation of powers between the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature and to ensure that our elected leaders are always accountable to the People who elected them to office,” reads the declaration.

They say it is sad that the negative attitude towards the media is championed by Mutharika himself. It cites attacks directed at Zodiak Broadcasting Station and Times Group at a rally in Mchinji.

The media owners have also faulted the environment in which a press conference which took place in Lilongwe after Mutharika return from the United Nations General Assembly (Unga) was conducted, describing it as a press rally.

“We believe there is great opportunity to assist the people of Malawi to remain informed on issues that impact on their lives and to provide them with platforms through our media houses, to discuss, debate and engage their elected leaders on such issues,” reads the document.

It continues: “But no media house can do this in an atmosphere of intimidation; where successive government administrations fail to uphold their pledges to pass into law the Access to Information Bill and where journalists and media houses are subjected to intimidation, threats and violence by successive Heads of State and their agents.”

Media houses represented at the meeting include Capital Radio Malawi Limited, ZBS, MIJ FM Radio, Chanco Radio/ TV Station, Beta Tv, Nation Publications Limited and Times Group.

MCM Executive Director, Vales Machila, has said it is unfortunate that the issue has reached this

“We gave them room for discussion but it did not work. This cat and mouse relationship between state house and the media could not continue. Obviously the media houses have taken their positions based on their interests and that of the general public. We respect the media houses’ position,” Machila said.

Last week, MCM wrote State House Director of Communications, Bright Molande, expressing concern over Mutharika public utterances against the media. Molande then indicated that his office was working on MCM’s letter.

And in an interview yesterday Molande has said that government remains open to dialogue.

“If they have started business with government because we are demanding professionalism from them, that’s their wisdom. That is not our wisdom. We remain open to dialogue. No single media owner has asked for dialogue and has been turned down. I hope their blackout includes misinformation and negative propaganda,” he said.

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