New York, August 31, 2010--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns threatening comments made by President Bingu wa Mutharika against Malawian news outlets last week. Mutharika threatened to close newspapers that report critically about his administration after the private weeklies Malawi News and Weekend Nation cited a regional agency's report forecasting food shortages in the country, local journalists told CPJ.
"I will close down newspapers that lie and tarnish my government's image," the president said at an agricultural fair in Blantyre on Thursday, Agence France-Presse and others reported. The president told editors to leave "blank pages or else publish pictures of cows, hyenas, or dogs," if they have nothing positive to report, according to local reports.
"Instead of making threats and telling editors what to print, the president should uphold his country's constitutional commitment to press freedom," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "The president should allow the press to report freely, especially on such vital matters as food supply."
Malawi News and Weekend Nation cited a food supply forecast by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which said more than one million Malawians could face shortages in the wake of dry conditions in the south.
Mutharika, who has been credited for a successful fertilizer subsidy program, disputed the SADC projections, citing government projections of a surplus in maize production, local journalists told CPJ. The general manager of Blantyre Newspapers Limited, which publishes the Malawi News and two other independent papers, said the company stands by its reporting, according to local reports.
Article 36 of the Malawi Constitution states: "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."