Malawi media are against the presence of ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cadres, often in large numbers, at presidential press conferences, saying President Peter Mutharika should only meet probing journalists when he returns from the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly(UNGA).
The call has been made by Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi-Chapter Chairperson, Teresa Ndanga, made the call during the commemoration of the International Right to Know Day which was held in Lilongwe Friday.
The role of these party cadrers at presidential press conferences is not officially defined but they jeer and intimidate journalists who supposedly ask difficult, embarrassing or awkward questions. In essence, jeering journalists for doing their job.
According to Ndanga, journalists should be in an environment where they can fully express themselves.
“We have seen journalists being threatened after asking crucial questions. At the last meeting, they had to be escorted just to get out of State House.
“If the President will organise a press briefing again, let it be a pure press briefing in an environment where journalists can ask questions without threats, murmurings or threat of any physical attacks and I hope the DPP government will listen to us,” she said.
Government spokesperson, Nicholas Dausi, said they would look into the matter but could not commit thet party cadres will not be allowed to attend the news conference.
Last time President Mutharika returned from the UNGA, his “press rally” was a savage gathering by DPP cadrers.
Former president Joyce Banda held a similar “press rally” on her return from abroad when she anticipated tough questions from the media on what was then news revelations on cashgate in 2013. Before Banda the late president, Bingu wa Mutharika, held his own “press rally” as he returned from holiday in Hong-Kong in 2011.
So the trend is that these “press rallies” take place when state presidents are trying to avoid unwelcome questions — avoiding accountability. When faced with such a situation the tendency has, unfortunately, been to shift blame and portray journalists as troublemakers
Meanwhile, these “press rallies” are not just aimed at intimidating and bullying the media into submission; it is also way of limiting freedom of expression while national legal frameworks permits it.
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