Parliament on Wednesday passed a bill to repeal Section 46 of the Penal Code, effectively scrapping off powers of the Minister of Information to prohibit a publication which he or she considers not desirable.
Despite initial resistance from Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) MPs to block tabling of the bill on grounds that it did not fulfil a 28-day notice requirement, the bill had overwhelming support from both sides of the House, with only DPP spokesperson on information Eunice Napolo strongly speaking against the repeal.
Ironically, former minister of Information and Civic Education Symon Vuwa Kaunda supported the repeal despite being one of the principal architects of the law many quarters labelled as draconian during the late Bingu wa Mutharika regime.
Napolo argued that as MPs, they have the right to protect the nation, especially minors, against undesirable publications such as those on pornography.
She said DPP, when introducing the law, feared turning the country into the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.
Introducing the bill, Leader of the House Henry Phoya said Section 46 of the Penal Code was perceived as an unreasonable limitation to free publication, freedom of speech and freedom of the media.
“This piece of legislation has been a subject of protracted controversy. [It] gave this country a wrong image without giving government any tangible benefits,” said Phoya.
The bill went through without much ado and within 80 minutes of its tabling, the whole House overwhelmingly voted to have the act repealed.
Section 46 becomes the third of the “bad laws” to be repealed after the Injunctions Law and the Change of the National Flag.
In his contribution to the debate, MCP spokesperson on legal matters Alekeni Menyani said freedom of the press was not a privilege, but a right enshrined in the Constitution.
Menyani referred to the banning of government advertisement to Nation Publications Limited newspapers and also the torching of vehicles belonging to Zodiak Broadcasting Station as well as Section 46 as a manifestation that the former DPP government was set to muzzle and gag the press in the country.
After the bill was passed, the House continued with debate on the Presidentâ€™s State of the Nation Address and thereafter adopted the statement.
In an interview later, Phoya said the repeal of Section 46 alongside sections 45, 47, 48 and 49 means that Section 46 does no longer exist in the laws of the country.