I write because I must! As a democracy, we must speak out when we feel that we our country is headed in wrong direction. If writing will help in putting the country on the right track, so be it!
May I start by thanking the media for their continuing attempts to inform the nation on various pertinent issues. Freedom of speech as a right and, in my opinion, one of the most precious liberties of them all and, without it, its absence would put an end to democracy itself in Malawi. For example: In most democratic countries, limitations on freedom of speech are found in laws relating to Blasphemy, Incitement to Disaffection, Official Secrets Act, Obscenity, Defamation, Public Order Act etc. In the media bill recently passed in our parliament, too much was given to the government (Minister of Information) in a way that gives some of us the opinion that the government is muzzling the media (radio, TV, print).
What our democracy wants to see is a situation in the country where the government and its agents do not, directly or otherwise, intimidate journalists. The media has the right to criticise the government of the day or heap praise on it based on everyday issues. It is also a known fact that radio stations and publications take positions but to be taken seriously they know they must try to be balanced when they report the news. A vigorous and free press is therefore indispensable to a free society, speaking out plainly and stalwartly when a specific government policy (or an issue) is improper or, when corruption is located in public affairs or, and even more seriously; when our human rights are ruptured.
There is a Latin saying which says: “Nemo…patriam quia magna est amat, sed quia sua” (“No one loves his country because it is big but because it is his own”). In my opinion, most of our journalists do their job of informing the people because of their love for their country; they need our cooperation and appreciation and not harassment and ridicule. They don’t ask questions to our politicians (including the President) because they want to be rude and cheeky, no, not at all! The least the government of the day can do is to give them the answers. It would be foolish to conclude that journalists ask the questions for their personal interest. They raise questions for the interest of the nation.
As politicians and party supporters, we can’t justify handling journalists as was the case at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) a couple of weeks ago when President Bingu wa Mutharika returned from his “annual” holiday. Journalists, asking our President, the Ngwazi, Professor Bingu wa Mutharika what some of saw as pertinent questions, were shouted down and humiliated by “DPP Cadets (allegedly) and even DPP Members of Parliament” present at the airport. We must always be mindful that all elected politicians are employees of the people in the country they serve.
Those people who jeered the journalists would have benefitted from the answers the president would have given had some of the journalists gathered enough courage to ask whatever question they had for the Ngwazi. For example, questions on issues like, the shortages of fuel and drugs in our hospitals, rising food prices, the dropping value of the Malawi Kwacha, lack of new bank notes at our banks, human rights violations, corruption, etc. It must not be a case of “My government right or wrong” and burying our heads in the sand will not solve the nation’s ills! Blind loyalty in any political party is always destructive; the ruling party should use its Indaba (National Governing Council) to openly discuss issues of national interest. Such “closed” debates wouldn’t only give the DPP a good image in the minds of the voters but would also help improve the calamities the country is currently experiencing.
Surely, mothers die on hospital operating beds because there was an electricity power failure and the generator had no diesel; ambulances and the police fail to respond to SOS calls because they didn’t have fuel in their cars; school-going children fail to finish their homework because of the same reason and all these people have one thing in common: they are Malawians regardless of political affiliation. And remember companies are closing down because they are failing to import spare parts for their machines or to restock because there is no foreign exchange; companies relocating to neighbouring countries for the same reason and we are seeing people lose their jobs. Again, these problems are afflicting every Malawian whether they are DPP Cadets or MPs who were jeering the journalists at the KIA.
I refuse to believe that the Ngwazi would fire DPP National Governing Council members who would try to raise these issues. Please, don’t be afraid of the President; he is really a pussycat (and I do not say this derogatively) when it comes to open talks in a closed room – he really is, go on, try him? He may positively surprise you guys! Tell him what your constituents are telling you and what suggestions they are putting forward; you may learn something there! And all of us as country could really benefit from your courage.
I would also like to encourage the DPP to make a statement against the behaviour of their supporters at press conferences or rallies as they seem to have become. I don’t think Mutharika is scared to answer questions. He is a big boy who can take care of himself. Preventing reporters from asking our president questions, leaves the impression that these handlers underrate the president and that they themselves are aren’t democrats as they would want the world to believe.
To DPP supporters, here’s some free advice: First, go back to the policies which made Bingu’s first administration popular, replicate and implement them again; you will find that you may not have any reason to jeer our journalists at press “rallies”.
To our journalists, don’t succumb to government pressure: we are behind you and continue to do what you do as professionals, even if they put a scone (not even a milk scone) in your mouth! Our democracy didn’t come on a silver-platter. Let’s protect it – together!
To fellow politicians, let’s always remember and be not ashamed to say what Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill said: “I do not like what you say about me but, I will always defend your right to say it”.
Long live Malawi Journalism, Long live Malawi Democracy!
• The author Davies Chester Katsonga campaign director for opposition United Democratic Party; chairman of China Malawi Cultural & Social Links, advisor to Chinese Africa Overseas Chamber of Trade & Commerce and Malawi’s for Speaker of Parliament. He also serves a cabinet minister: Mines Energy & Natural Resources; Foreign Affairs; Presidential & Parliamentary Affairs; Defense and Labour. ©2011 The Maravi Post. Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment