NBC chief Bob Kandetu’s decision to rescind the gagging order, that in essence would have stifled what is often lively debate on the public broadcaster’s airwaves, should be commended because it takes great courage to admit one’s shortcomings. And this should not in any way be seen as a sign of infirmity, but rather on the contrary a bold move that is receptive to commonsense and to the input of a mature and liberal audience. True to the adage to err is human, Kandetu has shown he is a mere mortal inclined to make mistakes and we urge others who find themselves in decision-making, be it policy or administrative, to take a leaf from his book and emulate the actions of this functionary. His critics may say the decision to reverse the move to stage-manage the Chat Show, Open Line and Ewi Lyamanguluka, among others, is a humiliating turn of events, but Kandetu deserves praise for listening to the public and granting its wishes. By doing what he did, he shows a level of maturity, and is thus telling the masses in a democratic society like ours that putting the cart before the horse is not the way to go. Generally, it would have been a big insult to dictate to the masses what to say and what not to say on the national airwaves because Namibians are mentally mature people and are in most cases tolerant of divergent views. Predetermining what callers should say while they debate on these important forums would only stifle public debate and this is not good for democracy. Such folly would only inculcate a culture of fear as has been witnessed elsewhere. Though there have been a few misguided elements who nearly rocked the boat by using these phone-in programmes, dubbed people’s parliaments, to heap scorn and to make vitriolic and defamatory attacks on others, it was wrong to gag everyone. And like we said previously, those who chose politics for a living should bear in mind that they will naturally be subjected to all sorts of verbal abuse. In other words, their profession is not for the weak-hearted but for those who can stomach all sorts of attacks. Though we do not sanction insults or the unwarranted verbal abuse of politicians in whichever way, we strongly believe politicians should be held accountable and are answerable to the masses who in the first place elected them as their leaders. We hope the recent gag was also a blessing in disguise in that callers to the various actuality programmes would also now be more responsible and sensitive and approach the topics at hand in a more constructive manner. We do not suggest call-in programmes should be reduced to the subservient role of praise singing. We believe callers can still be critical and constructive. They should criticize where necessary but in a civilized manner and without resorting to name-calling or slandering others. We know the broadcaster finds itself in a catch-22 because it has to facilitate freedom of expression on the one hand, while protecting the rights and dignity of those being criticized on the other. This requires that those hosting the programmes should strive to strike the right balance. We also know that any spontaneous public debate is not necessarily a popularity contest and there will be those who will try to hit below the belt. To prevent such free-for-all verbal fisticuffs we once again humbly request the NBC to strengthen existing control measures. Strengthening the existing control measures in this verbal game would not necessarily be tamper-proof as evidenced in a game of soccer where players have to be cautioned before being red-carded. The same could be done on these programmes. From this short-lived debacle, let us hope the NBC’s lesson will not be lost on others who tend to be dogmatic in their approach.
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