Criticism Healthy for Democracy

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THESE are trying times for journalists, and the media in general, as democracy in Namibia and the region reaches a defining moment ahead of elections in the SADC neighbourhood.

Namibia, South Africa and Botswana will hold elections next year while Zimbabweans vote next month.

The region is not only grappling with planning and energising citizens for the coming elections but also transforming and democratising as former liberation movements, eager to prove their credentials, take steps and missteps on the democracy carpet.

Ironically, it is not just the former liberation movements that are adapting to the new conditions created by the dawn of a democratic era. So-called internal parties are also caught up in the same quagmire, having no culture of democracy themselves.

And caught in the crossfire of these missteps are journalists who are verbally assaulted for their political reporting. Journalists are often soft targets of party apparatchiks who, for lack of better things to say, misdirect their fire on journalists rather than their opposite.

The tongue-lashing and apportioning of blame is meant to put pressure on the media. Journalists are being given labels, associating them with some political parties. This is one way of trying to discredit their work and integrity as journalists.

Of course, there are those journalists who do not help the situation. Some journalists, and there are few, do compromise themselves by being ‘too close’ to some political parties or groupings while in the majority of cases, media workers in Namibia have shown some degree of impartiality.

On the other hand it is crucial that media institutions should consider putting in place a media council underpinned by a code of conduct. Self-regulation should be the way to go.

Ordinarily, relations between politicians and journalists have to be less cordial by virtue of the nature of their work. It cannot be otherwise.

But the relationship should never be that of enmity. The relationship should be of respect and understanding.

To an extent, journalists in Africa tended to get little respect and recognition in the past and were treated with disdain by those in high offices.

The growth of the media industry in Africa has, however, changed the situation. Media and journalists are becoming a powerful force in their own right. They are asserting themselves in their quest to serve the public.

This calls for a change of heart by today’s politicians. What the politicians seem to forget is that the days of command and control are gone. Those in positions of power can no longer ride roughshod over other sectors of society including the media.

Independence and the dawn of democracy in 1990 held the promise that finally we were reclaiming our worth as people. It meant we would once again respect one another, tolerate each other and live in peace and harmony.
Years later, however, there is little to show in terms of respect for one another and tolerance.

All that we see is an angry nation. It is a nation whose airwaves are filled with angry voices and newspaper columns depict an angry people. Hatred and polarisation are replacing the talk of peace and reconciliation. And political leaders are adding fuel to the fire. They are angry with one another, angry with the media and angry at their own shadows.

Needless to say, much of this anger by politicians is misplaced. It is anger by people who do not want to accept that the price of being a politician is criticism. They do not want to pay that ultimate price. Why they are in politics, only they can tell.

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