Bingu's repressive media law repealed

Malawi parliament axes amendment to Section 46

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

June 5th, 2012

Malawi has taken another crucial step away from the authoritarianism of the past under former President Bingu wa Mutharika back towards the path of constitutionalism and democracy with the repeal by parliament of the repressive amendment to Section 46 of the Penal Code, which empowered the Minister of Information to ban publications deemed not in the public interest.

Section 46 was amended in November 2010 and met with with anger and consternation by both local and international civil society and human rights defenders - as well as key donors - which argued that the amendment was unconstitutional and would help to undermine progres towards a more open and democratic Malawi.

As with many other dreadful legislative decisions, the late president and his cabinet cronies ignored the outcry, maintaining that the change was both democratic (since it was approved by parliament) and in line with the consitution (although it is hard to believe that the government would have won a battle on this in court). Fortunately, the extra powers were never used in practice, although the threat of them hung over the independent media at all times. And even more fortunately, these powers have now been repealed.

"This is the dawn of a new era," said Anthony Kasunda, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)-Malawi chairperson. "This is what we wanted. The repeal is a sign of maturity and commitment to constitutionalism by the new administration."

The repeal follows a call from President Joyce Banda for parliament to repeal laws that are repressive and deny Malawians their constitutional right to freely express themselves and to seek and receive information without fear or hindrance. Banda made the call when she opened the 43rd Session of Parliament on May 18.

While the amendment to Section 46 has now been removed from the statute book, there is still a lot of work to be done to amend or repeal other pieces of legislation that are inconsistent with the Constitution's provisions regarding free speech and media freedom. These laws include Sections of the Protected Places and Names Act, Sections of the Police Act, Official Secrets Act and Censorship Act.

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