President Bingu wa Mutharika has assented to a media repressive bill, effectively making it a law that now empowers the minister of information to ban publications he deems contrary to public interest. Speaker of Malawi's national assembly Henry Chimunthu Banda confirmed that the head of state has indeed signed the bill.
The Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has since said it will jointly take the matter to court with the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC).MISA Malawi shocked
"MISA Malawi is shocked and disturbed with the decision by President Bingu wa Mutharika to assent to the Section 46 Penal Code Amendment Bill," said the body's acting chairperson Anthony Kasunda.
He said the shock comes from the fact that MISA Malawi petitioned the president on 16 November 2010 soon after the bill was passed in parliament, asking him to send back the amended bill to parliament for further consultations.
"The view then and now of NAMISA, the Media Council of Malawi and other relevant bodies that represent media interests, is that there were no adequate consultations when the section in question was being considered for amendment," he said.
"We feel proper and thorough consultations should have been done before the matter was brought to parliament for discussion," he said.Inconsistent with Constitution
Kasunda said MISA Malawi also brought to the attention of the president the fact that the amendment was inconsistent with the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution and posed a threat to media freedom in the country.
"Therefore, MISA and the entire media fraternity question the president's commitment to promote media freedom, as he has on several occasions, claimed to be a true friend of the media and a champion of press freedom," he said.
The amended section 46 of the Penal Code, now reads: "If the minister has reasonable grounds to believe that the publication or importation of any publication would be contrary to the public interest, he may, by order published in the Gazette, prohibit the publication or importation of such publications."
Before the proposed amendment, the section only prohibited importation of seditious publications.
This new law is contrary to Section 36 of the Constitution which stipulates that "the press shall have the right to report and publish freely, within Malawi and abroad, and to be accorded the fullest possible facilities for access to public information."