President Joyce Banda has assured the media fraternity that her administration will table and pass into law the Access to Information Bill and ensure that those media practitioners are accorded the freedom they deserve to do their work professionally.
The Bill was drafted in 2003 and aims at creating a conducive environment for access to public information.
President Banda speaking at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre on Monday during an audience with media managers said she will ensure that the bill is tabled in Parliament, saying accessible information is vital for citizens to make informed decisions and participate meaningfully in all matters of national interest.
“I will make sure that access to information bill is passed, I understand it has already been drafted,” said President Banda.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi successfully developed a draft bill on access to information in 2003.
The bill has undergone a number of reviews from a wide range of stakeholders, including MPs, civil society organisations, government ministries and judicial officers.
Banda wondered as to why some bills were taking long to be passed by the former Government citing the newly passed Disability Bill.
The President also said her Government will not harass the media, observing there cannot be democracy without free press in the society.
“I do acknowledge the role of the media both private and public. I remember the private media played a very greater role when I was passing through difficulties inflicted on me by the former Government,” she said.
Patrick Semphere, Chairperson of the Media Council of Malawi (MCM) commended Government for addressing issues surrounding section 46 of the constitution which empowered Information Minister to close any media house or publication deemed to have violated media code of ethics.
Semphere said the section was intended to take away the freedom of the press saying it was now water under the bridge as the current Government had addressed the issue.
He said this was a sign that the current Government has taken strides towards addressing concerns of the media.
Semphere said the removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) on newspapers has brought hope to the media fraternity saying the relationship between Government and the media is now on track.
“Madam President, let me remind you that the former Government was doing everything possible to kill the media. There was a ban that no Government department should advertise with Nation Newspaper and the Joy Radio; the former Government also introduced VAT on newspapers, attempts by Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) to close Radio stations which were broadcasting live the July 20 demonstrations though they were doing it on security reasons, but at the same time people were being denied access to information.
“The former Government was also arresting journalists anyhow including assaulting and summoning them,” lamented Semphere.
Semphere therefore appealed to the President to ensure that all the three arms of Government including Police were not violating media freedom.
The function was attended by all members of Media Council of Malawi and Media Institute of Southern Africa, Malawi Chapter.