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Misa not convinced with press freedom

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Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter says the environment in which the media practitioners are operating in the country has failed to provide enough room for the expected press freedom.

In an interview on the World Press Day, Misa Malawi Chairperson Thom Khanje said there is still a lot to be done to ensure that journalists in the country work without restraints.

On May 3 every year, journalists across the world celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

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“The environment itself does not provide all the room or the kind of playing field that journalists would want to do their job to the best. In Malawi, we still have laws that threaten media freedom. So, yes we are relatively free but there are those laws in our statues that threaten the job of a journalist. We have insult laws where the government has power to arrest journalists for doing their work.

“We still do not have access to information law which means there is limited amount of information that we can get. Government officials give us information at their own discretion and they are not legally bound to give us that information. So that also continues to be prohibitive factor,” Khanje said.

He also said journalists that are working with Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) are also forced to toe the political line as the public broadcaster is not free from the political influence amid the Communications Act that subjects the broadcaster to politicians.

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Khanje also said in terms of media training, the media training institutions in the country are not adequate and those that exist are training school-leavers who have no desire to work as journalists.

“These are people who wanted to do other programmes of study but because the only programme that the University of Malawi could offer to them is journalism, they go to the Polytechnic and study journalism but go to do other jobs not journalism because they were not journalists in the first place,” he said.

Khanje said Misa has been discussing with the Unima to focus on practising journalists through evening and weekend classes.

“Looking at the environment, we can say journalists are doing their job well and our constitution is very beautiful but for it to be operationalised we need some enabling laws to facilitate the enjoyment of media freedom and freedom of expression,” Khanje said.

Minister of Information, Communications Technology and Civic Education Patricia Kaliati said the government is impressed with the job of providing information to the public that journalists are doing in the country.

Kaliati said even without access to information law journalists are able to get information but government is doing all it can in ensuring the tabling of the ATI Bill.

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

The country 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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