The Malawi chapter of the Media Institute for Southern Africa has
described as unfortunate an incident in which a prominent opposition
Member of Parliament (MP) beat a senior Daily Times reporter for
mentioning his name in a story about his brother, writes Samuel Makaka.

Joseph Njovuyalema, 51, an MP of the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), is on the verge of losing his parliamentary seat after being given a suspended three months’ sentence and a fine of MK20 000 (U$150) by the Lilongwe Magistrates court.

The Malawi constitution bars anyone convicted in a court of law from continuing to serve as a Member of Parliament.

Innocent Chitosi, director of Namisa, commented: “It is sad that things had to go that far, I mean taking the MP to court. We are supposed to have a very good relationship between MPs and journalists as they are our sources of news, but at the same time we appreciate the court processes as they serve as a signal to warn others of the same behaviour who look upon journalists and think that they can do anything to them and get away with it."

The court had heard that on 9th February this year, Njovuyalema went to the Daily Times offices to refute allegations concerning him in a story Dickson Kashoti wrote about the MP’s young brother who was being accused of murdering his wife.

In that story, Kashoti alleged that the MP was seen around the Lilongwe Police Station where his brother was being detained.

It was this part of the story the MP did not like and wanted to refute.

During a discussion with the reporter, he lost his temper and hit the author of the story three times in the face in full view of fellow reporters in the newsroom. Kashoti was treated in hospital.

Njovuyalema, who is also chairman of the Public Appointments Committee in the opposition-dominated Parliament, claimed that his case was politically influenced mainly because he and his committee give government a tough time when approving presidential appointees to senior public positions. But the judge dismissed the claim, saying the MP’s actions did not need to be influenced by any other force to become a crime.

The MP has since appealed against the judgment.