Malawi | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Malawi

Malawi

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

55

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

20

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

18

Freedom of speech and of the press are constitutionally guaranteed in Malawi, although these rights are sometimes restricted in practice. The government has occasionally used libel and other laws to put pressure on journalists. In fact, in April 2007, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) went so far as to ban all private media outlets from broadcasting political rallies live without prior permission from the MACRA. This move primarily targeted the main private radio stations, Capital Radio, Joy Radio, and Zodiac Broadcasting Station. MACRA claimed it acted in order to curb the airing of “hate messages,” even though no evidence was given to support the accusation that this had been taking place. However, in July, the high court struck down the MACRA order as unconstitutional when a lawsuit was filed by Joy Radio. Later in October, MACRA appeared to retaliate for the ruling by ordering Joy TV—an affiliate of Joy Radio that stood to be the nation’s first private television station—to immediately cease all its broadcasts until the station could obtain the necessary licenses. Tailos Bakili, the station manager, claimed that they did indeed have all relevant licenses.

The government does not exercise overt censorship, but freedom of expression in Malawi is threatened in more subtle ways, often resulting in self-censorship. One journalist was reportedly attacked in 2007. Dickson Kashoti, a reporter for the private Daily Times, was physically attacked by parliamentarian Joseph Njobvuyalema over an article that had criticized him. Njobvuyalema was later fired from his position and sentenced to three months in prison for assault.

The print media represent a broad spectrum of opinion; 10 independent newspapers are available, and of the 8 major papers in circulation, 6 are privately owned and most are editorially independent. The state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) operates the country’s 2 largest radio stations, and there are approximately 15 private radio stations with more limited coverage operating mainly in urban areas. Following the ban on Joy TV, state-owned Television Malawi—which generally adheres to a progovernment bias—is now the country’s only television station. In 2007, the Malawi parliament again approved only half of the funding for MBC and Television Malawi, accusing the two state broadcasters of bias toward the government and the ruling party. At the same time, independent radio broadcasters receive no support from the state even through advertising revenue. As all equipment must be imported and paid for in U.S. dollars, the high cost of taxes and import duties imposed by the state threaten the economic viability of many independent commercial broadcasters. There are no restrictions on the internet, although with access at less than 1 percent of the population, it is not a major source for news.