Attacks on Media ‘Not Healthy’

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Namibia has sharply condemned what it describes as severe attacks on the media during the last few weeks. MISA Namibia says it, as well as media professionals, have observed an increasing number of these attacks, which seem to be well planned and growing in intensity. MISA considers the matter so seriously that it hastily called a press conference yesterday to deal with the issue. MISA National Director Mathew Haikali and NANGOF chairperson and Director of the Legal Assistance Centre, Norman Tjombe, addressed the media briefing. “We would like to categorically state that this situation is not healthy for a growing democracy such as Namibia,” Haikali said. He charged that the Namibian media has experienced serious verbal assaults from parliamentarians and non-parliamentary groups since 2005 until now. The media body noted with concern the growing tendency to subject journalists and media institutions to frivolous lawsuits and labour disputes. The aim of these tactics, Haikali said, was to “punish” rather than address any relevant issue. “MISA Namibia condemns in the strongest terms the attempts to silence the media through expensive lawsuits that will only end up taking away from what this democracy has achieved,” the MISA director stated. In a new development Haikali announced MISA had agreed to fund the legal defence of suspended New Era News Editor Da’oud Vries. Both Vries and freelance investigative journalist John Grobler applied to MISA Namibia for financial assistance. MISA Namibia has no legal assistance fund, and was therefore forced to ask for help from the MISA regional secretariat. Funding for Vries was approved, while a decision is still pending on Grobler’s application. Haikali said MISA Namibia is concerned about the current level of intolerance shown by supporters of political parties towards the media in the country. “We are also worried about the lack of understanding of the role of the media by the general public and even some leaders. The media exists to tell the story as it is, without fear or favour,” he noted. The media however has to adhere strictly to the ethics of journalism and ensure these are kept to the highest standards. He called on media houses to ensure the speedy implementation of an independent media council that would help deal with grievances among the public. The government for its part is responsible for removing all obstacles to the free flow of information that could distort Namibia’s image as a democratic country. Haikali said there is a need to repeal obsolete defamation laws enacted over half a century ago and bring laws in line with the democratic ideals Namibia professes to uphold. He further called for the enactment of ‘access to information’ legislation that will protect the media and the general public in cases of corruption and other abuse of public property. NANGOF’s Tjombe called for an end to the ban on government institutions advertising in the newspaper The Namibian, describing the ban as unconstitutional. He further said that he would be the first to defend former president Sam Nujoma’s right to sue whomever he wanted. Tjombe however felt he could have taken another course rather than to sue a newspaper for simply reporting the news. In his view it was telling that many other media organs reported the same news for which the Namibian is being sued, but they were not sued. “Taking away freedom of expression diminishes all other rights,” Tjombe said.