This friction or let me say it this way, President Peter Mutharika’s (APM) recent hate for the private media is unnecessary, senseless, useless and unwise if not archaic.
Some previous powerful presidents did the same but did not succeed. No leader or president wins the battle against the media in this country and I would say our old good professor is just wasting his time and energy for nothing.
Former president Bakili Muluzi took on the Times Group, when the newspapers published stories against his move to manipulate Parliament so that he could stand for a third term.
He ordered government freeze on advertising for the Group and this had a very negative knock effect in the oldest newspaper in the country but editors never gave in.
Muluzi’s right-hand man, Dumbo Lemani, organised violent protests against the Group, took party cadres in party colours to the Times Ginnery Corner headquarters to force the newspaper to change its editorial policy so that it favoured Muluzi and his United Democratic Front (UDF).
This never helped at all. Now, Muluzi is out of the presidency, battling his corruption case while UDF is the most junior partner in the government but the Times has grown since then, it has expanded, adding to its portfolio an exciting television station and radio.
Former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika did the same. He ordered a government freeze on advertising on Nation Publications Limited (NPL), on very same reasons. The newspaper soldiered on and it is still here, one of the premier newspapers.
Bingu, sadly, is no longer with us in this world.
Therefore, the attacks, insults, outbursts and tantrums are not necessary and APM should avoid them at all costs.
People think only leaders who are corrupt hate journalists. Muluzi is not corrupt but he is answering high-level corruption cases in the High Court. Bingu was never convicted of graft but there are several requests to probe him after allegations that he stashed K61 billion in offshore accounts and his alleged connection with Mota- Engil.
Therefore, when APM, known to be cool and thoughtful, starts picking up battles with the media, then we wonder what is happening or rather what is not happening.
He complains of stories that should not be complained of. It seems to me he does not understand what a hard news story is, what a feature is, what an opinion is and what a column is.
He groups them together and finds his fury there.
If he takes his fury out of the stories, he would discover sense in the stories; they uncover corruption, they can help prevent corruption, if the President relied on them, the economy would not have been on its knees as is the case now.
His assertion the media cooked up an illness for him is misplaced and deliberate distortion of facts. The media tried all it could to get the truth on the matter but it is the presidency itself that did not want to tell the truth.
Mutharika forgets that he is a republican constitutional man holding a republican constitutional office; therefore, anything to do with him is news. In fact, any illness is a constitutional issue as well, this is why the media was all over to find out if indeed the President was sick or not.
So, as it can be seen above, the journalists were merely doing their job of informing people on constitutional issues concerning the president.
For the President, therefore, to attack the media in the course of their noble duty is unpalatable and we think Mutharika has more to do for Malawians than wasting time and energy attacking journalists whom he shall leave behind when he leaves office either in 2019 or 2024.
As I earlier said, Muluzi tried all he could to muzzle the Times but failed and left the stage. Came Bingu, he tried to muzzle NPL, sadly, he passed on just two years before the end of his term.
Therefore, presidents should not always take their relationship with the media too personal; it should start on professional level when the heads of state, including APM, enter office and should end on professional level when the heads of state leave office.
Whatever APM can do, the media in Malawi will remain intact just as he found it and his tantrums will not help matters at all.
That in Malawi people enjoy their democracy to the fullest because of the independent judiciary and the vibrant media is a fact; therefore, they would jealously guard against anyone who wants to destroy this.
Diplomats I have had a chance to chat with have always praised the Malawi media for their excellent job and when I hear messages in contrast to this from our head of state, I laugh.
Heads of state would always want to be praised just as they are praised by party women in songs.
Unfortunately, the media have no talent in being cheer leaders!
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