Online publishing irreversible – MISA Headquarters tells Zambia & Malawi

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) headquarters in Windhoek Namibia is seriously concernned at the attempt by the Zambian government to close the Zambian Watchdog.

MISA is also worried about a new proposed law in Malawi which appears to be aimed at crippling certain online publications.

But MISA has told the Zambian and Malawian governments that online publishing phenomenon is not only irreversible but, perhaps more importantly, beneficial to the promotion and protection of democracy, fundamental human rights and good governance.

In an alert on Zambia issued on Thursday October 4, 2012,  Levi Kabwato, MISA’s Programme Specialist for Media Freedom said the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) notes, with serious concern, attempts to impede online publications from publishing freely.

“This isn’t a positive trend at all. Issues of Internet freedom and freedom of expression in cyberspace are rather new to the region and that partly explains the discomfort of both the Zambian and Malawi governments who may be frustrated at their lack of control over what is published online,” said Kabwato.

THE FULL ALERT IS REPRODUCED BELOW:

Zambia Alert        
4 October, 2012
Online publication comes under fire

The Ministry of Home Affairs through the Office of the Registrar of Societies has given notice of cancellation of a certificate of registration to a prominent online media organisation the Zambian Watchdog ( http://www.zambianwatchdog.com/).
A newspaper advert published on Thursday, 4 October 2012 in The Post newspaper and signed off by the Chief Registrar of Societies, Clement Andeleki,
states that the Zambian Watchdog’s office has remained unknown but only has a registered postal address and is also alleged to have neglected to remit statutory fees and inform the Registrar of Societies about the status of the media organisation.

Reads the advert in part: “…the society’s registered office has remained unknown to the Registrar but only having a registered postal address being P.O Box 35034, Lusaka and the society has departed from its registered objectives, and the office bearers have failed or deliberately neglected to remit statutory fees and inform the Registrar of Societies about the status of the society.”

It has also been made clear that Registrar of Societies intends to cancel the registration of the Zambian Watchdog pursuant to Section 13(2)(b) of Cap. 119 of the Laws of Zambia unless the society submits reasons to the Registrar against such cancellation.
Meanwhile, the Zambia Daily Mail newspaper of Thursday, 4 October 2012 reports that the Registrar of Societies has given the online publication a 48-hour ultimatum to pay statutory fees amounting to K26million (about US$5,000) among other obligations or face deregistration.

The newspaper reports that the 48-hour ultimatum comes after a 21-day notice was given to the office bearers of the Zambian Watchdog but no response was given. Andeleki said the ultimatum must not be taken as an act of intimidation but as a law enforcement measure because the online publication had ignored its obligations.

A day earlier, on Wednesday, 3 October 2012 Andeleki to the Zambia Daily Mail in an interview that his office had the capacity to deal with Zambian Watchdog and will issue a warrant of arrest if it continues publishing online once the ultimatum expires.

“They think we do not have the capacity to deal with them but we will use the necessary provisions of the law to ensure they are dealt with. We will not allow them to continue to be on the run. They have to show up and explain and if they don’t show up by Monday (8 October 2012), we will issue a warrant of arrest,” Andeleki was quoted as saying.

Earlier the same day, MISA issued an alert on developments in Malawi, where a new Bill is being introduced and appears to have some of its sections targeted at stifling online publications.

“This isn’t a positive trend at all. Issues of Internet freedom and freedom of expression in cyberspace are rather new to the region and that partly explains the discomfort of both the Zambian and Malawi governments who may be frustrated at their lack of control over what is published online,” said Levi Kabwato, MISA’s Programme Specialist for Media Freedom Monitoring & Research.

“However,” he added, “instead of clamping down on the alleged offenders by either sneaking in laws without much public awareness or using some obscure legislation to target such media, these governments – and indeed those in the rest of the region which have also previously registered discomfort with the Internet – must recognise that the online publishing phenomenon is not only irreversible but, perhaps more importantly, beneficial to the promotion and protection of democracy, fundamental human rights and good governance.”

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