TWO days ago the local media, and other key stakeholders across the globe, marked World Press Freedom Day to pay tribute to what has now become a long-standing and praiseworthy tradition that means so much to mankind. Speeches read by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah and by Claudia Harvey on behalf of UNESCO’s Director General were without a shred of doubt good intentioned and at times even motivational. When it comes to freedom of expression and to an independent, pluralistic press, Namibia is a cut above many of its neighbours because it has a vibrant media with editorial policies that are largely free from censorship and stifling legislation. However, there are hurdles and barriers that need to be overcome if we are to establish a truly free and vibrant media in our country. There are individuals, including officials, who seem to pay cosmetic service to freedom of expression. Press freedom or at least its essentiality sometimes becomes as controversial as its importance. This is because of misconceptions and sometimes total ignorance on the part of these individuals about the operations, functions and role of the media in a free and democratic country. There is growing intolerance over dissenting views and this affects press freedom. Such people knowingly or inadvertently victimise or label members of the media fraternity when news articles that are not to their liking appear. There are also those who want to use the media as a tool to spearhead their factional and partisan interests and if journalists do not tow the line, they have to live with labels or veiled threats. Such intolerance is not healthy for press freedom and democracy in our country. The intolerance or inability to agree to disagree is a form of extremism that ultimately breeds hatred and social instability. It is a recipe for disaster. Journalists should be allowed to do their work as professionally as they can. After all, they ought to know better. Interference in the work of journalists is tantamount to totalitarian behaviour. It should never be condoned. The media is here and will always be there to inform, to entertain and to educate without taking sides because it is there for all Namibians irrespective of their status. Readers and listeners are the best judges of the media and it should be left to them to dictate matters as no media outlet can afford to ignore them. Media freedom and editorial independence should never be compromised on the altar of political expediency and personal gain. Much is at stake here and the country’s democracy and its people would become the ultimate losers if that were to happen. Freedom of expression and press freedom are fundamental human rights. They cannot be taken away and should never be compromised. The role of the media is not only to inform, educate and entertain but also to provide a forum through which all Namibians irrespective of creed, race, ethnicity and political party affiliation can express themselves. Last year, Namibia was ranked 25th on the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based media watchdog. What this index means is that Namibia was the highest ranked African country, beating South Africa and even the champion of democracy, the USA. But there are still some problem areas such as individuals who are unable to brook dissenting views and this in itself is a weakness. We have to try and inculcate a culture of tolerance and that means agreeing to disagree and respect for other people’s views however much one disagrees with them. When a society is intolerant of differing views, it tends to hate those with dissenting views and this could result in extremism. We should not impose ourselves on each other but live in harmony with each other by accepting to agree to disagree. We cannot all have the same school of thought. Otherwise, we will become a very boring nation and our intellect will simply become stunted. We should love and not loathe others with dissenting views, as hating them is also incompatible with the very principle of political freedom being watered by the blood of thousands of Namibians who paid the ultimate price during the struggle for liberation. We would also like to point out that media organisations should play fair and not be too preoccupied with championing the advancement of one section of the media. Such unfairness tends to lead to division and the ultimate price would be paralysis and failure to fulfil our role as watchdogs. .
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