There has been recurring violence against journalists for several years, and the authorities have not always punished those responsible. But they did promise to stop arresting journalists.
Young members of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) continued to settle their differences with journalists by punching and kicking them with complete impunity. But the authorities seemed to soften their stance towards the country’s energetic opposition press in 2003. In October, for example, director of public prosecutions Fahad Assani said the police should not arrest journalists who were going about their work. He wrote to police chief Joseph Aironi a few days later asking him to pass on this instruction to his staff, saying it was unacceptable to intimidate journalists and that Malawi’s young democracy needed the support of a free press.
But disturbing statements by some political leaders served as a reminder that press freedom cannot be taken for granted. In August, for example, the UDF deputy regional governor for South province, Samson Msosa, threatened to "deal with" the staff of the independent daily The Nation and warned them against trying to cover his party’s convention. Reporters who wanted to attend the convention should first get a UDF membership card, he said. President Bakili Muluzi immediately distanced himself from these comments and said all journalists were welcome at the UDF’s convention. Nonetheless, a reporter was physically attacked and several others were expelled at the opening.
Two journalists detained
Maganizo Mazeze, a journalist with radio MIJ 90.3, a local station in the southern district of Blantyre, was detained for sensationalist reporting on 19 January 2003. He was accused under section 60 (1) of the constitution of inventing news likely to cause public fear and alarm because he interviewed an inhabitant of the Thyolo region where it was rumoured that men came at night to take blood from the locals in order to exchange it for food. President Muluzi had issued a decree ordering the police to arrest anyone caught spreading these rumours. Judge Sylvester Kalembera ordered Mazeze’s release the next day on the grounds that the charges were minor and his arrest was illegal because the police had no warrant.
Frank Namangale of the Daily Times was arrested and held for several hours on 16 September in the police station of Blantyre before being freed on bail. He was accused of publishing false information with the aim of alarming the population because he wrote three days earlier that President Muluzi’s adoptive son Evance Muluzi belonged to an armed gang arrested for burglary. Namangale was summoned for questioning on 19 September. He was also sought by the Young Democrats, a youth wing of the ruling party. The director of public prosecutions ordered on 24 October that all charges should be dropped against him.
Eight journalists physically attacked
A senior member of the staff of the Daily Times, Penelope Paliani-Kamanga, was injured by a rubber bullet on 27 January 2003 as she was covering a protest against a proposed law to allow President Muluzi a third term.
Young supporters of the ruling UDF on 7 July attacked journalists who had come to cover the party’s annual congress in Blantyre. They confiscated the equipment of Daniel Nyirenda, a photographer with the independent daily The Nation, and roughed him up, with the result that he had to be hospitalised. They manhandled Gideon Munthal of The Nation, and ejected him from the hall where the congress was being. Anthony Kasunda of the Daily Times, Wadza Otomani of the Malawi News and Emmanuel Chibwana of the commercial radio station Capital FM were also expelled. President Muluzi described the attack on Nyirenda as "unfortunate" while insisting that those responsible were not members of the ruling party. He also undertook to ensure that journalists were protected.
Police officers beat six journalists who tried to take pictures of an altercation between a motorcyclist and police on 18 October. Raphael Mwenenguwe, one of the photographers, claimed that the police initially told them they could take pictures but when George Ntonya of The Nation arrived, one of the police officers pounced on him and then the police began hitting all of the photographers present.
Harassment and obstruction
Young members of the UDF insulted Daily Times vendors in Lilongwe on 14 February because of a report in the newspaper’s issue of 10 February that the president would not be allowed to run for a third term.
The body that oversees communications ordered community radio stations on 3 June to stop carrying news programmes on the pretext that it violated section 51 of the communications law. The ban was aimed at the Catholic station Radio Maria, as well as Radio Islam, Transworld Radio, Radio Calvary Church and MIJ 90.3, which interview people of all political tendencies.
President Muluzi voiced threats against the news media on 24 June following the appearance three days earlier on the front page of the Weekend Nation of a report examining the origin of the food he distributes to supporters at political rallies. He said he would have to take measures if the press did not stop "putting its nose" into his affairs.
On 2 October, the authorities closed the premises of the weekly The Chronicle in Lilongwe and confiscated equipment as a result of two government lawsuits. One was prompted by an article about the embezzlement of public funds by senior officials. In the other case, the newspaper was accused of libelling a minister. The Chronicle’s staff nonetheless managed to keep bringing the weekly out.