Starting with a freedom march and ending with the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) gala dinner, Malawians celebrated World Press Freedom Day Saturday May 3, 2012.
But amongst the celebrations, the unfortunate happened.
Standing at a wooden podium giving a speech to the crowd of journalists dressed in ball gowns at the MISA gala awards ceremony Dr. Justin Malewezi, Malawi’s former Vice President, reminded the group how the country’s free press standings rank amongst other nations.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Malawi 146 in 2011, when in 2010 it stood at 79.
This marks the most dramatic fall in free press rankings in history, said Malewezi during his speech.
But the Vice President provided an explanation why Malawi is now tagged with such an unfortunate world record.
In 2011 late President’s Bingu Wa Mutharika signed a new yet repressive legislation which limits journalist’s freedom across the country. Section 46 of the penal code gave President Mutharika the power to ban any publication he deemed contrary to the public’s interest.
This was Mutharika’s attempt to keep the country quiet while Malawi’s economy and social standards deteriorated during his final term. For instance, before Mutharika’s death on April 5, 2012 the country underwent fuel, foreign currency, and sugar shortages. So when the country’s civil society began to make a fuss, Mutharika signed Section 46.
He passed other repressive legislations, including the Injunctions Law, refraining Malawians the right from filing civil suits against government officials.
“This just goes to show how quickly a government can become corrupted,” Malewezi said during his speech.
The crowd that was celebrating, cheering and clapping just moments prior to Malewezi’s speech went quiet.
Sitting at the head table was Moses Kumkuyu, the current Minister of Information in Malawi.
Malewezi turned to the current Minister to address this matter. He asked Kumkuyu to restore Malawi’s right to free speech and access to information.
But, Malewezi’s request was hopeful. He reassured the crowd Malawi will begin to prosper in many ways now that new President, Mrs. Joyce Banda, is in power.
“She will create a better path for journalists.”
This confidence was echoed by Minister Kumkuyu when he took the stand shortly after Malewezi’s speech.
“This new government will ensure that media freedom is respected and upheld,” the Minister of Information assured the crowd. “Come next year, let’s see what the new rankings become.”
The restoration of Malawi’s access to information and free speech by the current government is just one reason the country has welcomed Banda’s leadership with enthusiasm. The country seems hopeful again.