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Court injunction allows newspaper group to continue publishing "The Weekend Times" pending judicial review

(MISA/IFEX) - On 2 November 2010, the High Court in Blantyre, southern Malawi, granted an injunction to Blantyre Newspapers Limited (BNL), to continue publishing "The Weekend Times" pending judicial review of the order by the National Archives of Malawi for BNL to stop publishing and circulating the paper.

The ban, which was issued on 29 October, was based on the fact that the paper was not registered with the National Archives of Malawi in line with the Printed Publications Act.

In an interview with MISA-Malawi on 3 November, BNL General Manager Leonard Chikadya said the injunction was obtained by the company's lawyers.

"The High Court in Blantyre has granted us an injunction, restraining the National Archives of Malawi from stopping BNL to continue publishing and circulating 'The Weekend Times', pending a judicial review on the matter," said Chikadya.

According to Chikadya, the matter was heard by Justice Hailey Potani, who accepted arguments from BNL's defense counsel. Among other arguments, BNL's lawyers argued that the ban on "The Weekend Times" would seriously affect the welfare of BNL's employees. Further, the lawyers stated that the paper was serving the interests of a lot of readers and that banning it would deny readers their right to information.

BNL's defense counsel was expected to serve the National Archives of Malawi with the court injunction on 3 November. Under normal circumstances, the judicial review takes 90 days. But Chikadya told MISA-Malawi that Justice Potani had assured BNL that he would see to it that the process was expedited so that the matter should be heard within 21 days.

Meanwhile, BNL management has scheduled meetings with officials from the Ministry of Information and Civic Education, in order to settle the matter out of court.

The ban on "The Weekend Times" sparked widespread condemnation and debate from different sectors of society. Among the commentators on the matter were representatives from the Media Institute of Southern Africa Malawi Chapter (MISA-Malawi). In a statement issued on 30 October and signed by MISA-Malawi National Director Aubrey Chikungwa and its Chairperson Brian Ligomeka, MISA-Malawi appealed to government to reverse the decision to ban the publication and circulation of The Weekend Times.

MISA-Malawi expressed surprise over "The Weekend Times"' ban."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 management of BNL filed the necessary paper work for registration with the National Archives some time back," read part of the statement.

The Chapter further argued that banning the publication because it was not registered with the National Archives was rather severe and smacked of hypocrisy as the order had been issued almost a year after "The Weekend Times" 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 penalty of 100 pounds. 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," the statement further reads.

"The Weekend Times" is the country's first tabloid and has been on the market for over one year. Among other contents, the paper targets fun lovers and exposes various ills of society such as love scandals as well as corruption issues.

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