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Media Council weighs options on Malawi’s media ban law

"Bingu okays newspaper ban law," Daily Times March 1, 2011


Media Council of Malawi (MCM) says if dialogue with government doesn’t end in a repeal of Section 46 of the Penal Code, it will consult legal experts to see if the media ban law can be challenged on constitutional grounds.

The renewed call to repeal Section 46, which empowers the Minister of Information to ban publications deemed contrary to the public interest, was in response to a government statement by Chief Secretary Bright Msaka that said the law would only be used under “reasonable grounds.”

Msaka claimed the media ban law would only apply “in cases of publication of material that is repulsive or pernicious to the public in Malawi, such as child pornography, incitement of violence or promotion of hatred, genocide or terrorism.”

Law and media experts in Malawi have rejected this claim, saying there are already laws in place to protect against the publication of offensive material, such as libel and defamation laws.

Constitutional lawyer Edge Kanyongolo told the press that repealing Section 46 will be a lengthy process, therefore challenging it in court would be the best course of action.

MCM Chairperson Patrick Semphere said the media body was still negotiating with government to see if the media ban law could be repealed.

“This issue does not concern the media only but the nation at large. Therefore need to consult widely and come up with the best way forward,” Semphere said. “We will also consult legal experts if we can challenge it in court.”

He was of the view that leaving the section in question would be a threat to media freedom.

“The enactment of the law comes at a time when the government tried to ban The Weekend Times and stopped advertising in The Nation.”

“What we want is for the law to be repealed,” he said.

Asked if the Msaka’s clarification holds water, Semphere said the government has said nothing new from what Justice and Information Ministers said during the meeting they had with media bodies.

“What government could have done was to engage the media before drafting the bill, but honestly we have heard before what the Chief Secretary has said,” Semphere explained.

Msaka among other things said the amendment of Section 46 of the Penal Code was motivated by the desire to improve the law in line with the Constitution, the rule of law and precepts of democracy.

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