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Publication and circulation of newspaper banned by National Archives

(MISA/IFEX) - October 30, 2010 - The Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Malawi) is appealing to the government to reverse the decision to ban the publication and circulation of "The Weekend Times", a publication of Blantyre Newspapers Limited (BNL).

According to reports broadcast on various radio stations, the ban was issued because the paper is not registered with the National Archives of Malawi. In an interview with MISA-Malawi, National Archives Acting Director Mr. Joel Thaulo said his organization has launched a campaign to flush out all publications that are not registered. He, however, did not disclose the names of the other unregistered publications.

Mr. Thaulo explained that the National Archives operates on two legal instruments: the National Archives Act and the Printed Publications Act. All printed publications, according to the Printed Publications Act, are required to register with the National Archives and at the same time submit a copy of their publication to the organization.

Our findings show that it is not only "The Weekend Times" which is not registered with the National Archives of Malawi, but numerous other publications. Our findings further show that the BNL management filed the necessary paperwork for registration with the National Archives some time ago.

MISA-Malawi is appealing to the government, and the National Archives in particular, to consider rescinding the ban on "The Weekend Times".

We feel banning the publication because it is not registered with the National Archives is rather severe and smacks of hypocrisy as the order was issued almost a year after the paper was first published.

Though the Printed Publications Act does not provide for a warning to publishers that have flouted the law, we are aware that the Act provides for a fine. The ban on "The Weekend Times", therefore, is in our view, out of the National Archives' mandate and a clear violation of section 36 of the Malawi Constitution which states 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".

It is important to note, therefore, that the ban on "The Weekend Times" is a serious threat to freedom of the press, which is a vital determinant of every democratic society.

It should be made clear, however, that MISA-Malawi does not condone the flouting of procedures when it comes to the registration of publications. We thus appeal to the government and management of BNL to solve this matter amicably while "The Weekend Times" is still in circulation, otherwise the swift speed taken by the National Archives to ban the paper will be viewed as a deliberate move by government to instill fear in the media in Malawi.

We are very optimistic, therefore, that BNL will continue circulating its paper whilst issues of the paper's registration are being amicably resolved.
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