Time to Get Off, madam!

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Gwen Lister of The Namibian was at it again last week – her target, the public media including this newspaper. Well, it’s time the old lady is told where to get off. True to our character, we have ignored Gwen Lister’s diatribe all these years not because we fear her but out of professional respect. We did so for the simple reason that it is not in our nature to engage in mudslinging, especially with fellow journalists. Our position is that as media houses, we are there to compliment each other and to make our nation a winning nation by disseminating the necessary information to enable our people to make informed decisions about their future. But Gwen Lister seemingly thinks otherwise. She is mistaking our goodwill for a weakness. She has declared war on us. She has nothing good to write about us. Each time she has to mention this newspaper, it is in the negative. When she has to quote a story by New Era, she pretends we did not originate the story. The alternative is to rubbish and discredit our stories. Gwen Lister finds joy in quoting this newspaper only when she has to add the prefix “Government-owned or -controlled”. This is a deliberate ploy to stigmatise us, to portray us as an instrument of propaganda. She does not do the same with her own newspaper or any other paper despite the fact that her paper and others are owned or controlled by one or the other company or persons. So big is Lister’s ego that she puts herself and her newspaper above all else. With her holier-than-thou attitude, she thinks she is a holy cow and make no mistake, we are quite capable of engaging her in her dirty war against us. Lister has been using her column to heap scorn and to rebuke anything that does not conform to her liking. She has persistently used her newspaper to belittle others and to downplay the role we play as an information medium in this country. She thinks it is her god-given right to tell the Namibian story alone. For too long, Lister has been waging a low-key war against us. It all began at our inception in 1991. She used every opportunity then to portray us as another propaganda mouthpiece and that we were inferior. She huffed and puffed about taxpayer money being wasted as if she were the only taxpayer in Namibia. Typical of her, she conveniently forgot that over the years, she and The Namibian were the recipient of millions of European taxpayers’ money. European taxpayers bankrolled The Namibian as a loss-making venture until after independence. They pumped colossal sums of money into the newspaper despite their own social problems and Lister was too happy to receive it. Only an illogical mind would argue that there is nothing wrong when Europeans’ tax money is used to fund The Namibian but when Namibian tax money funds New Era, the NBC or Nampa, then all hell should break loose. What nonsense and selective morality is this? Just like Namibia, European countries have massive problems of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, etc. Even “larger than life” United States of America needs every dollar it has for its population despite being generous to others. Its resources are not infinite despite its gigantic economy. Hurricane Katrina proved that each country in this world has vulnerable and poor people. Therefore, the question is, what is wrong with Namibia funding an information service of its own if others are doing the same? The US funds VOA, the Britons the BBC, the Arabs Al Jazeera and so forth. Gwen Lister has no monopoly over wisdom. Of course she is entitled to her opinion and we respect that. We have always. But she must understand that telling the Namibian story is not her preserve alone. The story of Namibia is so huge, so important and complex that it cannot be left to her alone to tell it like it is not. The media landscape has changed in Namibia and new players have come on stage. Black Namibians who make up the bulk of the public media deserve a place in the media arena to tell the Namibian story from their perspective and contribute to the country’s development. Others systematically failed to extend black participation in the media at the highest level even though money was provided for this purpose. We are a growing and relatively young newspaper. We have our share of teething problems. We do not have the money that Gwen has. Whereas Gwen Lister’s paper has been there for over 20 years now, we are only 15 years old this year and have made tremendous strides in improving our product. We are making an impact on the market and substantial gains despite all the odds and that is why our detractors would not shut up. Whereas it was somewhat easy for Lister’s paper to create a readership out of political correctness (support for resolution 435), we are busy cultivating a readership out of the strength of our editorial content. That is the difference. And yet, having said all this, we wish to remind Gwen Lister that there is room for both of us on the playing field. We hate to say all these things but Lister’s bias against the public media has driven us to a point where we are forced to set the record straight. Criticism must be based on a heightened sense of honesty. Criticism is most welcome. We appreciate that. We have always accepted such criticism and actually allowed it without responding. But in as much as we appreciate being criticised, such criticism must be informed by fairness and honesty and not opportunism and personality cultism.