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Information minister threatens journalist, alleges espionage within media fraternity

(MISA/IFEX) - 6 March 2012 - Malawi's Information and Civic Education Minister, Patricia Kaliati, has verbally assaulted freelance journalist Gregory Gondwe following an article published by online news site Biz Community, and which Gondwe himself shared with Malawian journalists on a dedicated and exclusive e-mail discussion forum moderated by the Media Institute of Southern Africa's Malawi Chapter (MISA-Malawi).

Kaliati is said to have accused the journalist of having a specific vendetta against her personally and the people from her region, the same region where Malawi's president, Bingu wa Mutharika, hails from. The minister then issued a veiled warning to Gondwe, saying that this was to be the last time he wrote anything about her and suggesting that she would not be hesitant in future to do anything to the journalist since they did not hail from the same region in Malawi.

The article in question told of the Malawi government's dismissal of a cabinet assessment report published by The Sunday Times, a prominent newspaper published by Blantyre Newspapers Limited (BNL), the oldest publishing house in Malawi.

In his own words, Gondwe told the MISA Regional Secretariat Monday that: "Starting from yesterday [Sunday 4 March], a private call has been prodding on my mobile phone and I ignored the call since I don't normally respond to callers with hidden identities. This morning [Monday 5 March] around 5AM the calling resumed. I ignored the calls for a while until I decided to answer."

He continued: "My reluctance was confirmed when I discovered that the caller was none other than the Information and Civic Education Minister, Honourable Patricia Kaliati. She told me that there are journalists on the MISA-Malawi forum who are spying on some of us and alert her of any discussions that take place concerning her. According to the minister, I am trying to fight people from Mulanje (the minister's home village) and I hold a vendetta against her because I wrote about her when she was not the only minister who scored 2 out of 10 in The Sunday Times report. She then sent a veiled warning that this should be the last time that I am stepping on her toes, apparently because we are not from the same place. This, after she had used foul language on me."

MISA is gravely concerned about the condescending behaviour of Honourable Minister Kaliati towards journalists, coming as it does against the backdrop of a rapidly declining democratic culture in Malawi. If such behaviour from a minister is symptomatic of the Malawi government's growing intolerance of media freedom and freedom of expression, then we shudder to think what plight will befall journalists and media professionals alike at the hands of junior public servants and, quite possibly, people with links to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

We encourage and plead with Minister Kaliati to make active use of MISA-Malawi and the Media Council of Malawi to air out any concerns she might have regarding what is published or broadcast by the media in Malawi. In our view, calling journalists at nicodemean hours to verbally assault them and issue serious threats is hardly what a Minister of Information and Civic Education should do in a functioning democracy.

We are also deeply disturbed by the acts of yet-unknown journalists who are working in cahoots with politicians, clandestinely distributing to them information that is intended only for paid-up members of MISA-Malawi and designed to enhance the media profession in Malawi by providing fodder for vibrant and robust debate amongst journalists, media professionals and media scholars alike.

Such journalists, while free to associate with whoever they like, are in clear breach of not only the code of conduct of the MISA-Malawi e-mail discussion forum but also the global ethical practice of journalism by knowingly putting their fellow journalists in danger through their aiding and abetting politicians to secretly gather information on targeted journalists.

While MISA acknowledges the existence and indeed ­necessity of diverse opinions and approaches within the profession, we wish to reiterate that polarization that has clear political influence as its common denominator is extremely harmful, leads to loss of both credibility and confidence and, in the worst case scenario, leads to unfortunate loss of life, all of which can be prevented. Therefore, we urge all journalists in Malawi to exercise restraint, seek to protect each other and guard the sanctity of the practice of journalism in spite of whatever differences may exist in how their work is executed.

Finally, we encourage journalists on the MISA-Malawi e-mail forum to continue freely engaging on all matters journalism and media. We reiterate that MISA supports innovation and enhancement of media products for improved quality and service to designated audiences and we view this critical introspection by Malawian journalists as a very special way of seeking to improve how the media in Malawi can better serve the citizens who rely on them, daily, for information, education and entertainment.

Click here to read the Biz Community article that angered Information Minister Patricia Kaliati
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