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Need the Media Blame Swapo?

Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

THE Swapo Party’s motivation for a Government-driven media council may be unclear, but the penchant for the control of the press and media is by no means new.

However, should a Government-propelled media council and as a consequence a Government-controlled one come to fruition sooner or later, the media would have no one to blame but itself.

From the onset, the Government has been very hesitant to get entangled in the regulation of the media. Whether such hesitancy has been genuinely inspired by a principled belief in the freedom of the press and the media as Constitutionally enshrined or not is another issue. What is important is that the Government has hitherto been shying away from directly controlling the press and media.

Unfortunately, the press and media have failed to ride on this winter of the Government’s hesitancy to regulate the media to get its own house in order. There is no denying the fact that the media and the press leaves much to be desired in terms of self-regulation and that often subjects of media and press reports are, at its sharper end, without much remedy.

The press and media does not only leave much to be desired in terms of providing the necessary remedies but at one time or other has been making itself guilty of gross unprofessional conduct. Many a time such conduct has gone willfully unnoticed and uncorrected.

While we, in the media, often assure the public and media consumers of the essence of self-regulation, such self-regulation has proven at best to be just lip service. While we trumpet code of ethics and conduct in our media houses, most of these codes are practically non-existent except in our sub-consciousness, as few of those who are supposed to adhere to them and live by them hardly know of their existence.

Assurances to the media consumers as to the upholding of media ethics have been at best hollow. In a nutshell, 17 years or so after independence when the press and the media should have put mechanism for self-regulation in place, the few attempts that have been there have proven what they actually are, half-hearted attempts.

Therefore, it is no wonder that most have died early in their conception. There is no mistaking why many have been aborted the way they have, because they have never been cast in genuine commitment to a press and media with high ethical standards than to placate the public and keep the official hand of strangulation at bay.

The biggest culprit in this regard has been the traditional divide within the press and media between the pro-liberation-cum liberal and the pro-colonial-cum-conservative media and press dichotomy. The legacy of the contradiction of these to opposites lingers on in the post-independence era in which the press and media has as yet to clearly define its actual role.

Picture this against the Government’s own view of the role of the press and media whose traditional role is coughed in terms of education, entertainment and information. Most importantly the Government views the role of the press and media in view of its would-be contribution towards nation building.

The media itself has as yet to define itself in this regard and how it views its role in nation building. This has been the context in which press and media freedom has been evolving and in which the debate for self-regulation and/or media council is deposited.

Frankly, the press and media in Namibia remains a fragmented amorphous whole that as yet have to have a defined common role and vision. And this explains the inability of the media to come up with a self-regulatory framework as yet. Thus anybody could exploit this void.

Need the media therefore blame the Swapo Party?
The reactive statement by the Editors Forum does not say much. I would not have thought this is the time for it to engage in seeking what the Swapo Party’s motivation with the media council is or may be.

If our distinguished editors would have been following various political pronouncements about the media over the last couple of years, then they would not today engage in academic exchanges as they are doing.

In fact, the serious matter that they should address head-on and without delay is whether they would allow the Government to wrestle the initiative of a media council from under their loose wrap and run the risk of a Government-controlled media council and all the dire consequences for media freedom.

If any media institution is worth its reputation the challenge is the establishment of the media council now. Ignoring this in this hour would be auctioning media freedom to the unscrupulous speculators with this freedom that this country abounds with.

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