BLANTYRE (Malawi NewsNow) –Private media owners are demanding genuine przess freedom to be guaranteed and have threatened to boycott press conferences organised by State House and hand President Peter Mutharika and his Cabinet ministers news blackout following the recent “highly belligerent” attitude the President and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration have unleashed on independent media.
Since his return from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in United States of America (USA) last month, the President has gone on offensive, attacking the media, particularly Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) and Times Group, over their alleged “disgusting and unprofessional reporting”.
But in their declaration issued last evening after their meeting at Sunbird Mount Soche in Blantyre, the media owners, managers, directors and representatives of respective news organisations regretted the worrying trend being championed by State House and Mutharika to limit the media space in its performance.
Party officials and Cabinet ministers outnumbered journalists at Mutharika’s October 21 news conferenceParty officials and Cabinet ministers outnumbered journalists at Mutharika’s October 21 news conference
The media representatives have come up with a Mount Soche Declaration (after the venue of their meeting) signed by Nation Publications Limited (NPL), Capital Radio Malawi Limited, Times Group, ZBS, MIJ FM Radio Station, Chanco Radio/TV Station, Beta TV, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter and Media Council of Malawi (MCM).
In the declaration, the media said although they have complained on the issue before, nothing was changing as demonstrated by the harassment that journalists suffered during the last press conference Mutharika addressed at State House in Lilongwe on his trip from the US.
The declaration, among others, notes that no media house can effectively work in an atmosphere where journalists and media houses are subjected to intimidation, threats and violence by Heads of State and their agents.
The media representatives, therefore, declared their rights to pursue all lawful means in their efforts to perform their roles as news media houses.
Such rights include respecting and implementing guidelines and decisions of the watchdog organisations, MCM and Misa Malawi and recourse to the courts of law of the country.
In the declaration, the media owners say they will also move the courts to seek interpretation on the role of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) which behaves as a police, prosecutor, juror and judge in regulating and policing private electronic media.
“We will present a united front as a media and regard attacks on one as an attack on us all. We will reject divide and rule machinations by the State and we will only negotiate through our mother bodies, Media Council of Malawi and Namisa,” reads the Mount Soche Declaration in part.
The Mount Soche Declaration
- Private Media Owners and Media Managers met at Sunbird Mount Soche on November 7, 2016 and deliberated on the worrying trend being championed by the State House and President Peter Mutharika with a view to limit the media space in the performance of our duty which is to enlighten the public on how it is being governed.
- This is in recognition of the highly belligerent attitude that the Democratic Progressive Party -DPP Government has taken against the independent media to silence it from telling Malawians the truth
- Sadly, this had been championed by none other than the State President himself and it includes his blaming the gossiping and speculation surrounding his health on the media when he himself took the blame that he did not have his Staff with him in the US after the United Nations General Assembly because he sent them home.
- As if the above was not enough, the President threw all caution to the wind and called the media, Times Group and Zodiak Broadcasting Station – ZBS in particular, in Mchinji as disgusting and that they write nonsense and garbage.
- The gathering also took note of the fact that what happens at the State House is not a press conference but a press rally.
- All this happens despite the fact that the independent media through National Media Institute of Southern Africa – NAMISA and Media Council of Malawi – MCM have complained against such a practice but nothing has changed as exemplified by the harassment that journalists suffered during the last press conference the President addressed at State House on his trip from the US.
Taking cognisance of the above we therefore declare the following:
We the undersigned, being owners, managers, directors and representatives of our respective news media organisations in Malawi, after deliberating upon issues of concern on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, hereby issue the following statement which shall henceforth be referred to as the Mount Soche Declaration, venue of the meeting.
Inspired by the principles of Freedom of Expression contained in the Republican Constitution of Malawi; the Declarations of the United Nations and its agencies; the African Union as well as the Windhoek Declaration; and
Inspired by promises and pledges of successive Government administrations since multi-party rule in 1994; and
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.
Much progress has been made and we are committed to building upon these principles.
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.
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.
We therefore declare our rights to pursue all lawful means in our efforts to perform our roles as news media houses. Such rights shall include:
- Respecting and implementingguidelines and decisions of our watchdog organisations, the Media Council of Malawi, MCM and Namisa.
- Recourse to the Courts of Law of the Republic of Malawi
- Boycott of Press Conferences of the Head of State
- Black-outs of all news of the Head of State and Cabinet Ministers
- Move the courts to seek interpretation on the role of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority –Macra which behaves as a policeman, prosecutor, juror and judge in regulating and policing private electronic media.
- We will present a united front as a media and regard attacks on one as an attack on us all.
- We will reject divide and rule machinations by the State and we will only negotiate through our mother bodies, Media Council of Malawi and Namisa
- We will ensure that we stick to professionalism and be above board in the execution of our duties.
List of Media Houses
Capital Radio Malawi Limited
Zodiak Broadcasting Station
MIJ FM Radio Station
CHANCO Radio/TV Station
Nation Publications Limited
Media Council of Malawi