July 21, 2003

Ruling party official threatens newspaper reporters

An official from the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) has threatened to "deal with" reporters from "The Nation" and warned the newspaper not to cover its convention on 8 August 2003.

Speaking at a presidential rally in the southern district of Mwanza, the deputy regional governor for the South, Samson Msosa, alleged that "The Nation" photojournalist Daniel Nyirenda, who was beaten at the party's mini-convention on 7 July, was working on behalf of the UDF's former first vice president, Aleke Banda. Banda, who owns "The Nation", resigned from his positions in the party and cabinet to protest President Bakili Muluzi's decision to handpick a UDF presidential candidate for the general elections expected next year.

Since Banda broke ranks with the UDF, "The Nation" and "Weekend Nation" have became critical of the UDF and government policies. This has not been well received by party functionaries who were used to favourable reporting on issues that concerned them. "'The Nation' journalists have to be careful," Msosa warned, amid applause at the rally. He declared that journalists who want to cover the convention should get identity cards from his party's secretariat. "Journalists should come to our convention with UDF identity cards," Msosa said.

However, a visibly embarrassed President Muluzi contradicted his lieutenant, saying his party was "press-friendly." "I think what he meant was an identity card. I will not allow anyone to muzzle the press in this country," Muluzi said. He also assured journalists they would have access to the convention hall. (International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House, Toronto)

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