- As Malawi's presidential elections are approaching, political violence and attacks against the press are on the increase. Recently, two journalists-turned-politicians halted the printing of a critical newspaper and attacked staff at a printing company.
According to a report released today by the Windhoek-based media watchdog Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), on 29 January, Thom Chiumia and Chikumbutso Mtumodzi, two journalists who are also politicians, halted printing of the privately owned 'The Dispatch' newspaper and seized the printed copy and plates.
Mr Chiumia is President of the New Dawn for Africa (NDA) political party and Mtumodzi is the NDA's Secretary-General. The NDA supports the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) party and is widely believed to be funded by UDF fundamentalists.
According to Lusungu Mhango, production manager of the Karora printing and publishing company, Mr Chiumia and Mr Mtumodzi went to his printing press to print their own newspaper, 'The Informer'. When they arrived, they became angry after discovering that 'The Dispatch' newspaper was being printed.
- They wielded a knife and threatened everyone around, Mr Mhango said. "Some of my staff members sustained injuries," he added. He said his company lost over kwacha 70,000 (approx. US$ 650) as a result of Mr Chiumia's and Mr Mtumodzi's actions.
While denying his involvement in the incident, Mr Chiumia said he wanted to teach the printers a lesson regarding respect for the government. "I believe in media freedom. I cannot fight 'The Dispatch'. But I will fight printers who have hidden agendas and want to embarrass the government," he told MISA.
The NDA President further claimed that the printers sidelined his paper despite advance payment and printed 'The Dispatch' instead, which he said criticises the government.
'The Dispatch' managing director Martines Namingha said he was not surprised by Mr Chiumia's and Mr Mtumodzi's actions and that they have always tried to interfere in his operations.
- A few days ago they wrote in their paper that I am funded by National Democratic Alliance President Brown Mpinganjira, Mr Namingha told MISA. "They even quoted Republican President Gwanda Chakuamba as saying that I am funded by Mpinganjira. I talked to Chakuamba and he denied having talked to them," he added.
Mr Chiumia and Mr Mtumodzi have operated several newspapers, whose names have been changed following defamation charges.
In 2003, they beat Mr Mpinganjira to registration when they registered their party as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a name that belonged to Mr Mpinganjira's pressure group, and copied all its symbols. The courts stopped them from using the name but they kept the NDA acronym.
According to MISA, their newspaper disparages anyone considered to oppose the ruling UDF's stance. In March 2002, Mr Chiumia and Mr Mtumodzi allegedly assaulted a Burundian football coach who worked in Malawi, for what analysts said were political reasons.
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