As the quest for media independence continues, Malawi has been described as having a relatively free media environment with a legal apparatus to support the practice.

This was raised during a media debate organized by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter under the theme ‘Relevance of a free and independent media in the electoral process’.

The Lilongwe debate was the second out of the three regional debates organized by MISA Malawi in line with this year’s oncoming World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) cerebrations.

“We are coming from an era where we only had a single newspaper and radio whose main aim was just to praise the government.

“In that perspective, we can say we have a free media as we now have many radio stations and papers that are very much free in their operations” said Director of Information Grey Mang’anda who was one of the panelists.

Commissioner for the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), Nancy Tembo shared the remarks and congratulated members of the media for fighting to maintain media freedom.

Contributing to the debate, Mavuto Banda of Nation Publications Limited said comparing to the last two decades, media independence has moved on.

Banda cited the removal of Section 46 from the Constitution of Malawi as one of the significant marks in Malawi’s media freedom.

However, he said there are inherent challenges that the media still faces and need to be addressed like political challenges and self-censorship in the newsroom.

“However, there are other new threats to the media that keep emerging. Mostly, this is in form of economic threats whereby media houses become commercialized and want to make profits. This subsequently leads to retrenchment and unfortunately, it is the newsroom that gets the chop.

“Recently, The Daily Times which is one of the biggest newspapers in the country suffered the same fate. This is a clear challenge to the media requiring a workaround,” said seasoned journalist Banda.

Human rights lawyer Chrispine Sibande, however, on a legal perspective chose to disagree, saying there are still some components in the Penal Code that still inflict on the freedom for the media in the country.

Panelists at media debate which was attended by journalists from various media houses also tackled on whether Malawi’s media was ready for the first ever tripartite elections in 2014.

The first media debate was held in Mzuzu on April 20, 2013 under the theme ‘Online Safety and Professionalism: Progress and Challenges for Malawi’.

The main celebrations to be held under the theme “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media” will be held in Blantyre on May 3 and 4 and will include a memorial lecture, freedom march, media debate, gala dinner and awards ceremony.

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