Phalombe district council through the directive of its District Commissioner Harry Phiri has banned all private media practitioners based in the district from attending any government function, Malawi24 has learnt.
Phiri’s decision comes barely weeks after the press men refused to obey his plea to drop stories that revealed a bribe which his District Council gave to Auditors from the National Audit Office (NAO) who were in the district to audit the council in past weeks.
In a story which Malawi24 published on 30th August this year, it was indicated that the DC demanded some government sectors to contribute around MK2 Million which was later given to the auditors as additional allowances for their work.
This move did not please many workers at the Council who questioned the motive for giving the Auditors additional money when they were already provided with allowances from the National Audit Office.
A day before publication of the stories relating to the matter, Phiri convened a lengthy meeting in his office, where he passionately pleaded with the Journalists to have mercy for him.
Among other things the D.C promised a good relationship in which the Media would be involved in supervision of government projects from time to time as a way of ensuring that the two sides were in good terms, however the Pressmen did their work.
Two weeks after the occasion, the Commissioner through the District Information Office communicated the ban whose reason he did not clearly explain.
Reacting to the matter, Chairperson for the Malawian chapter of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Teresa Ndanga said it is unfortunate that the high officer was taking lead in blocking the Media from accessing and publishing information about how taxpayers’ money is being used.
It is sad that a public officer who is supposed to be accountable to the general public especially on the use of taxpayers money is now actually blocking the smooth flow of information, wrote Ndanga in response to a questionnaire.
Ndanga went on to call on the DC and the council to rescind its decision considering that section 36 of the Malawi Constitution states clearly that the press shall have the right to report and publish freely, within Malawi and abroad, and to be accorded the fullest possible facilities for access to public information.
“Section 37 goes further to provide for access to information. Now which part of these provisions is not clear? I would like to call upon the council to come out and explain on what legal basis this decision was made.
“If the published stories were false or a misrepresentation of facts, there are other means which could be used to seek remedy. We have the Media Council of Malawi and MISA Malawi. I need to make it clear that that decision was an infringement of media rights and call upon the council to rescind its decision to bar the media,” added Ndanga.
She went on to indicate that due to presence of Journalists in all the districts in the country it has encouraged transparency and accountability and Phalombe district council’s decision is uncalled for and not proper in the current set up of Media work.
“The councils decision therefore does not only hurt the media, it also hurts the citizens who expect a good service is various sectors and eventually, national development will also suffer as public money may not be used for the intended purpose.
“The council should also realize that the media is a critical sector in the national development cycle. In gagging the media, the council is therefore becoming an impediment to the very work it has to champion,” concluded the MISA Chairperson.
The banned Media houses include Malawi24, Zodiak Broadcasting Station, MIJ Radio and Mzati FM.