Political influence over the media restricts journalistic freedom in Malawi. Reporters are still subjected to threats and cyber-harassment.
The mid-1990s saw the start of a new era for press freedom in Malawi, with the emergence of independent newspapers and radio stations. Most people get their news from the public broadcaster, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). Malawi has ten independent newspapers but most of them are not easily accessible to the general public because of their price and because they are published in English, which most Malawians don’t know well. There are several TV channels, but only the state-owned Malawi TV broadcasts nationally.
The government wields some influence over the media. In 2018, a media group had to apologise after the ruling party accused it of publishing a story that was biased in favour of the main opposition political party. Several politicians own radio stations such as Zodiak Broadcasting Station, which is owned by the current information minister. It is the president who appoints MBC’s board of directors.
Freedom of expression is enshrined in the constitution, and the access to information law that took effect in September 2020 was a big step forward for press freedom. But insulting the president is still punishable by imprisonment, as is posting “offensive” messages under the 2016 cybersecurity law. Journalism is restricted by other laws, such as the law on protected places, which makes it difficult to access certain areas. The creation of the Communications Regulatory Authority of Malawi was an encouraging development, as was a 2021 High Court decision rejecting a businessman's request for two daily newspapers to be censored after they covered cases of alleged corruption involving him.
Most media operate on very tight budgets, which undermines their independence. Their financial survival often depends on what they are paid in return for providing political support. The practice of chimpondamthengo, under which reporters are paid for covering an event, is widespread. It gets its name from the symbolic remuneration offered to traditional doctors.
Religious groups exert a degree of influence over the media and use religious community radio stations, such as Radio Maria and Radio Islam, to promote their faith.
Malawi has not yet adopted a whistleblower protection law, and journalists are sometimes subjected to threats and online intimidation. Several cases of physical attacks on journalists, especially by political party activists or police, have been reported in recent years. Journalists are still sometimes arrested arbitrarily, as was a Nyasa Times news website reporter who was questioned by police in April 2021 in connection with a story critical of the president.