OPPOSITION LEADERS CONTINUED TO CHALLENGE THE JUNE 1999 ELECTION results, which saw President Bakili Muluzi elected to a second five-year term. The opposition’s claims of election fraud were bolstered in March, when the British anticensorship group ARTICLE 19 released a report claiming that the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) had set up two disinformation teams that planted false news stories during the campaign.
These stories allegedly included bogus accounts of endorsements received by the UDF and articles in state media that accused opposition leaders of plotting armed resistance against the government. The report also contended that during the election campaign, the state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation only ran live coverage of President Muluzi’s political rallies.
The release of the ARTICLE 19 report sparked heated debates in Malawi, discomfiting the Muluzi government. In May, prominent local journalist Rob Jamieson received death threats warning him against distributing the report.
In February, President Muluzi ordered an inquiry into allegations of corruption in the awarding of a contract to a British shipping company. Malawian journalists were largely responsible for bringing the scandal to light. The inquiry eventually uncovered fraud in more than six government ministries, leading Muluzi to dissolve his cabinet at the beginning of November.
When the corruption scandal first broke, Muluzi praised local media as “partners in development.” But when the independent weekly Chronicle published a document that directly implicated Muluzi in the scandal, the president filed a defamation suit against the newspaper, as did Minister of Health and Population Aleke Banda.
In July, local millionaire Pramod Kalaria try to buy up all copies of a Chronicle issue that accused him of violating immigration laws by hiring foreigners for jobs that Malawians could fill. Vendors told reporters that Kalaria’s agents had offered as much as five times The Chronicle‘s regular cover price to prevent further distribution of the article. In early October, UDF youth wing members tried to buy up all copies of the paper and burn them to protest negative coverage of President Muluzi. Several vendors were badly beaten when they refused to sell their stock.
Rob Jamieson, The Chronicle
Jamieson, managing editor of the independent weekly The Chronicle, said he received death threats from anonymous callers who warned him against distributing copies of a critical report on freedom of expression in Malawi that the British anti-censorship group ARTICLE 19 had released early in March.
Entitled “At the Crossroads: Freedom of Expression in Malawi,” the report alleged that the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) had set up two “disinformation task forces” during the June 1999 general elections to ensure that state media served the UDF’s political agenda.
One of the anonymous callers referred to the notorious 1983 “Mwanza case,” in which four prominent politicians mysteriously died, saying that a similar “accident” could be arranged for Jamieson.
Don Kulapani, The Chronicle
Four people believed to be members of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) called at the home of Kulapani, a reporter for the independent weekly The Chronicle in the capital, Lilongwe. On being told that Kulapani was out, they threatened to return later “to deal with [him]” for writing “nonsense.”
The visit resulted from an article by Kulapani in an early June edition of The Chronicle, reporting that UDF supporters had beaten up a Lilongwe International Airport employee who had allegedly criticized President Bakili Muluzi.
Unknown individuals bought up all copies of the weekly The Chronicle as soon as they hit the streets in the capital, Lilongwe, according to journalists at the paper.
This buying spree was allegedly funded by Pramod Kalaria, millionaire owner of the Lilongwe company Farmers World. Kalaria reacted to Chronicle allegations that he had been dismissing Malawian employees and bringing in Indian workers during a time of rising unemployment. One vendor said he was promised up to five times the cover price in exchange for advance notice of similar articles in future issues of the paper.
Pushpa Jamieson, The Chronicle
Jamieson, a reporter for the independent weekly The Chronicle in the capital, Lilongwe, was threatened by armed Police Mobile Force members while covering the aftermath of Malawi’s 36th independence anniversary at the Civil Service Stadium.
The police accosted Jamieson while she was taking photographs in the wake of clashes between riot police and hundreds of people who could not be accommodated in the stadium. Police told her she was not permitted to photograph the riot, confiscated her camera, and threatened to shoot her if she resisted.
Shortly after the incident, Jamieson returned to The Chronicle office and related the story to her fellow reporters. The Chronicle staffers later spotted the police officers who had taken her camera and left the office to confront them.
During this encounter, one of the officers started beating reporter Don Kulapani with a wooden baton. The police recognized Kulapani as the author of a recent article about a violent attack on an unarmed airport employee by supporters of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF). Managing editor Rob Jamieson intervened to stop the beating, and asked the officers to return the camera and film. The officers refused and threatened to shoot the journalists if they did not leave the scene.
The editors of the paper retrieved the camera (without film) the next day after asking the deputy inspector general of police to intervene.
The Daily Times
Deputy Minister of Transport and Public Works Iqbal Omar threatened to sue The Chronicle and The Daily Times newspapers for reporting negatively about him. Omar voiced this intention to a number of journalists from other media during a break in a parliamentary session.
Omar was apparently upset by a Chronicle article about his recent visit to the Lilongwe International Airport, where he reportedly declared that “the place [was] full of Tumbukas” (Malawians from the northern Tumbuka region). The article also suggested that the deputy minister’s remark had prompted supporters of the ruling United Democratic Front to beat up an airport employee.
The Daily Times article that upset the deputy minister, meanwhile, reported that opposition members of parliament had criticized Omar for flaunting his wealth.
Rankin Nyekanyeka, The Daily Times
Nyekanyeka, an editor at The Daily Times, was suspended for running a front-page lead story about Malawi police serving in Kosovo, instead of a story about the opening of a plastics manufacturing company by President Bakili Muluzi.
The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Mike Kamwend, said Nyekanyeka should have known that the Muluzi story was more important than the Kosovo story. And Toni Mita, a chief information officer under former president Hastings Banda and a current board member of the paper, said the suspension was justified because the Muluzi story was of greater national interest than the Kosovo story.
The suspension came three months after the paper’s original board, which was appointed by the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), was replaced by a government-appointed board, tilting the editorial stance in favor of the government.
On October 4, Nyekanyeka received a letter from the newspaper that said he could go back to work if he ceased to hold any decision-making position and accepted the post of sub-editor. Nyekanyeka was also advised that he would have to forfeit a 20 percent pay raise he had received in April. Though the journalist said he was seeking legal advice on the matter, sources in Malawi said his employment prospects would be considerably diminished if he carried through with legal action.
Denis Mzembe, Weekend Nation
Alfred Mtonga, Weekend Nation
Mzembe, a reporter for the Weekend Nation, was called in for questioning by the Fiscal Police over a story alleging that a company run by President Muluzi’s wife had been involved in a shady cement deal. The Weekend Nation is the weekly sister publication of the daily Nation, and both are part of the holding company Nation Publications Limited which is owned by Minister of Health Aleke Banda and run by his daughter Mbumba Achutan.
Mzembe had penned an article entitled, “Traders Swindle Government of Surtax,” which appeared in the December 2-3 edition of the paper, that implicated the First Lady in the financial improprieties. According to the staff of the Chronicle newspaper, however, the police action was not taken until the Chronicle published a story in its December 11-17 edition about the scandal.
The police detained Mzembe for two hours, pressuring him to reveal his sources for the story in a sworn statement. When Mzembe refused to disclose his sources, the officers summoned Alfred Mtonga, editor- in-chief of Nation Publications, which publishes the Daily Nation and the Weekend Nation. After their release, the two journalists announced that they had not been treated improperly.
Though police said that they were only conducting a normal investigation into possible impropriety, local sources believed the interrogation was designed to suppress further coverage of the scandal. Chronicle editor Rob Jamieson believes that the journalists would have received more harassment had the story been covered less fully.