Malawi government bans weekly tabloid

New York, November 1, 2010The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a government ban on the publication of Malawian weekly tabloid The Weekend Times today. In a letter dated October 28, the National Archives of Malawi issued an immediate suspension of The Weekend Times on charges of failing to register the paper, according to news reports.

The letter cited the 1958 Printed Publications Act, which requires all newspapers to be registered and to deposit a copy of each of their publications with the National Archives. Under the colonial-era law, the National Archives can shutter publications for an indeterminate period without appeal, local journalists told CPJ.

Blantyre Publishers, the owners of The Weekend Times and four other publications, applied to register all of their publications with the National Archive last month but did not receive a response, Managing Director Leonard Chikadya told CPJ. Once an application is submitted for registration it is assumed that the publication has commenced the registration process and cannot face punitive measures according to the publishing law, Chikadaya said. Blantyre Publishers’ legal counsel has filed motions for an injunction in an effort to continue publishing. CPJ was unable to reach the National Archives or the president’s office for comment.

“The The Weekend Times appears to have been shut down without basis,” said CPJ’s East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We urge the National Archives to rescind their order immediately and allow the weekly to continue publishing.”

The newspaper did not receive an official closure notice, learning of the suspension only through state radio reports, local journalists told CPJ. “We actually printed last Friday’s edition since we were not aware of the suspension order made the day before,” Chikadya told CPJ.

Launched in 2009, The Weekend Times has seen its circulation rise from 3,000 to 14,000. A tabloid weekly, the paper focuses on sports and entertainment, with investigative stories covering cases of fraud and sexual scandals of public figures, local journalists said.

The paper’s ban comes three months after President Bingu wa Mutharika threatened to shut down newspapers he accused of lying. At the time, two papers had cited a regional agency’s report forecasting food shortages in the country.