His Excellency President Bingu Wa Mutharika
President of Malawi
22 March 2012
We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to express our serious concern at an apparent government campaign to intimidate Nation Publications and other media critical of your administration.
According to reports, on 11 March the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s director of youth, Frank Mwenifumbo, reportedly warned civil servants not to advertise in or read any newspaper published by Nation Publications because their reporting is at times critical of the government and the President. Nation Publications publishes the daily The Nation, The Weekend Nation, Nation on Sunday and a free community newsletter, Fuko.
This followed an appeal on 10 March by Health Minister Jean Kalirani to Malawians living in the UK that they should not read the UK-based news website Nyasa Times, which is also critical of the government.
Ruling party officials have also threatened to arrest journalists for any reporting deemed to be insulting to you. On 9 March, in a statement released by the State House, Press Officer Albert Mungomo accused the media of insulting you and distorting your statements and actions to misinform and confuse the nation. In order to quell the Malawian media's “impudence”, the statement warned journalists that the government could imprison and fine journalists for airing or publishing material that insults or disrespects the President. Furthermore, an amendment to the penal code empowers the information minister to ban any publication she deems not to be in the public interest.
Other recent instances of alleged government intimidation include accusations by the Information and Civic Education Minister, Patricia Kaliati, that freelance journalist Gregory Gondwe had a personal vendetta against her after criticising her in an article. The minister reportedly warned Mr Gondwe that this was to be the last time he wrote anything about her and that she would not be hesitant in future to take unspecified action against him.
We respectfully remind you of your obligations to ensure that your country fully observes its international commitments to freedom of expression, including those made under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, to which Malawi became a signatory in 1989.
We also remind you that it is the duty of the state to provide an environment in which journalists are able to carry out their professional duties without fear of violence, and that the government has a duty to protect, not intimidate, journalists. Your government’s campaign against critical media has contributed to a climate of fear among journalists that promotes self-censorship.
We respectfully call on you to end your government’s campaign of intimidation of the press and to take all necessary steps to ensure that in future your country fully observes international standards of freedom of expression.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Editors Forum
WAN-IFRA is the global organisation for the world’s newspapers and news publishers, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The organisation groups 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries.
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights