Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
The days when Malawi's increasingly autocratic leader, President Bingu wa Mutharika, and his equally undemocratic ministers and cronies could act with impunity, safe in the knowledge that the rest of the world was not interested in what was happening in the 'Warm heart of Africa', have well and truly gone. The killing of 20 peaceful protestors and the humiliating climbdown over the expulsion of the British High Commmissioner last year focussed attention on the alarmingly negative trend in the country - and it seems that the international community is still keeping an eye on the country.
The latest unwanted attention (as far as the authorities are concerned) comes from the publication of the latest Worldwide Press Freedom Index, which sees Malawi plunging 67 places - the biggest fall of any nation. Reporters Without Borders now ranks Malawi 146 out of 179 countries in terms of its press freedom. The Paris-based group says the unprecedented drop was due primarily to the threats against, and arrests of, journalists during July’s deadly anti-government and pro-democracy protests.
However, presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba, has been quick to defend Malawi’s record, saying "You know the newspapers here are full of so many insults against the president, against all of us. I am convinced that journalists in Malawi enjoy a measure of freedom that is not found in many countries in the world."
Another factor in Malawi’s drop was the infamous section 46 of the penal code, which gives the minister of information the power to ban or close media houses that are deemed to be airing material that is not deemed to be in the 'public interest'. Section 46 is clearly contrary to international norms and standards regarding press freedom and has already caused serious concern among key donors, including European nations and the United States.
Reporters Without Borders' Worldwide Press Freedom Index is an annual report that uses more than 50 criteria to assess press freedom across the world. These include violations such as murder, assault, threats and censorship from governments, armed militias and other pressures.
Chairman of the National Media Institute for southern Africa, Anthony Kasunda, says the new ranking should make the government reconsider its position."Sometimes, in times like this, is when you get the positives. And we hope the authorities are looking into their shortfalls and will make things right."