The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter is greatly disturbed with the manner in which the President Joyce Banda news conference which was held at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre on Wednesday on her arrival from New York, the United States of America was conducted.

The environment in which the news conference was held was not conducive and friendly for journalists to freely ask pertinent questions that would have benefited Malawians who have been waiting to hear from the President on a number of issues that have been happening in the country while she was away.

It was clear to us, as an organization, that the presence of the large number of cabinet ministers, party officials and party supporters was meant to intimidate the media as it was apparent that the issue of looting of funds at Capital Hill would dominate the news conference.

The way the President handled the few questions which were allowed to be asked, also left a lot to be desired as she kept interjecting when journalists were asking questions, instead of allowing them to finish the questions. This also gave an opportunity to party supporters to disrupt the flow of questions.

The cheering and hand clapping when the President was answering questions disturbed the normal flow of information as journalists who were supposed to pay attention were disturbed and lost focus.

The conduct of party supporters also instilled fear in journalists as our memories are still fresh about previous experiences where media practitioners who asked questions deemed irrelevant or disrespectful to the Head of State were roughed up.

In a nutshell, the news conference at Sanjika Palace fell short of meeting the standards of a normal news conference. To us, we believe, the President lost an opportunity to answer pertinent questions which could be beneficial to Malawians who had anxiously waited to hear from her on how she intends to deal with the rampant stealing in government.

Misa Malawi appreciates Her Excellency’s efforts to grant the media in Malawi the opportunity to seek information. We recall that she has said on several occasions that the media in Malawi is free to ask her any questions when the opportunity arises.

Despite her Excellency’s assurance of media freedom in Malawi, journalists continue to face various challenges such as, especially from ruling party members as evidenced by the events at Sanjika Palace. We also would like to appeal to the President to appreciate that the media asks questions on behalf of Malawians and she should always resist the temptation to personalise the questions asked by the journalists.

Misa Malawi is hopeful that Her Excellency will consider our appeal and ensure that media freedom and freedom of expression as clearly provided for in the Constitution under Section 36 are fully defended and promoted.

Signed Anthony Kasunda NAMISA CHAIRPERSON

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