Death of Media Freedom

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Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

REACTIONS by various commentators, among them media practitioners, players and activists as well as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to the recent publication by a regional newspaper, the Caprivi Vision, of remarks by exiled Mishake Muyongo, are overall illuminating.

I also do not have any doubt that whatever has been said by the proponents thereof has been said with the best of intentions. These intentions are to defend the Namibian constitution and to protect the territorial integrity of the country.

However, there are pockets of worrisome aspects that need close scrutiny and sober reflection. Moreso, because they touch on one of the core functions of the media, to inform the public, and equally one of the important tenets of a free and democratic society – the right of the public to know.

I especially have issue with the erroneous perception being created that the editor of this newspaper had published Muyongo’s New Year message in “disregard for the Namibian constitution”. Yes, the editor may perhaps not have been sensitive in publishing the message in view of the sensitivity of the issue but I cannot see in what sense he may have disregarded the constitution?

One agrees completely with the sentiments that the media has a duty and a responsibility to ensure that what it publishes does not sow national discord or raise alarm. This is especially in view of the fact that the incident in August 1999 had disastrous consequences including the loss of lives.

With due consideration of all these the media also has a duty and responsibility to inform the public, provide it with a channel in the exercise of its right to know and thereby enable it to make informed judgment based on the information so provided. That means there must be a balance between the duty of the media to inform the public, the right of the public to know and sensitivity to national security. This balance in the case of publications rests with the respective editors and/or editorial teams as much as in this case the editor of the Caprivi Vision exercised the judgment to publish.

Yes, he may have misjudged. To my understanding in the absence of further enlightment by those who may be privy to more information about either the ill-intention or motivation of the editor and the publication, misjudgment is all that it is to the publication of the message. Yes, one hopes the misjudgment may not have dire consequences.

The relay of such information to the public is especially of essence in view of the treason trial that has been going on in Namibia involving members of the Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA), to which the exiled leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) Muyongo is somehow linked. There is no denying that the intent of Muyongo and company to secede the Caprivi Region from the rest of Namibia by violent means is unconstitutional. But is the relay of information containing such intent unconstitutional and can it be likened to incitement?

As far as my memory serves me, since the outbreak of the Caprivi secession debacle, this is the first time that the Namibian public has Muyongo on record as advocating the violent secession of the Caprivi from Namibia. Why is it wrong then for the Caprivi Vision to put him on record? Is this not a confirmation by the word of mouth of Muyongo himself of what he and fellow secessionists have been accused of all along? Is having Muyongo on record categorically advocating for the violent secession of the Caprivi from Namibia not strengthening the State case? In this age of multimedia one is not sure through what other communication channels Muyongo may have transmitted his message. The possibility exists that Muyongo may have used other channels to transit his message. Why then is it so material for the Caprivi Vision to carry the message to inform the public that may otherwise have been transmitted? Unless the Namibian authority may have been already informed through its intelligence network, is it not thankful to the Caprivi Vision for such information?

The treason case has been running in the High Court in Namibia and much has been said regarding the intentions of the CLA to secede the Caprivi Region from Namibia. This has been reported in the Namibian media. Does it mean such reports have been an incitement?

It is the duty of each and every patriotic Namibian to defend our constitution.

We cannot defend the constitution by pretending or denying that there are not such elements who believe in seceding the Caprivi. We can only defend the Constitution by acting against the actions of such believers as is happening currently in our courts via the treason trial that is acting against the treacherous acts of August 1999 and anything surrounding before and after.

We can also do so by systematically undermining such beliefs and showing them for what they really are, unintelligent. This supposes continued debate and not the stifling thereof or the collateral muzzling and shooting of the messenger. Does the fact that Muyongo is a suspect in the secession by violent means of the Caprivi Region from Namibia makes him not publishable in Namibia? And what is the media that publihses his secessionist intentions guilty of in the absence of an explicit ban on publishing anything uttered by Muyongo? Publishing Muyongo’s secessionist intent is by no means a denial that he is a fugitive from the Namibian law.

The editor in question should apparently have packaged the message differently. One just wonders what this “different packaging”? I wish the proponent thereof could have elaborated especially on the criteria and guidelines for the particular editor, and for the benefit of many other editors, on the norms constituting different packing, which I am sure is reference to “sensitivity”. The paper reflected what Muyongo said in bold and I don’t see what more value the perceived packaging may have added to the Caprivi Vision to the essence of his message?

Outlandish statements tantamount to instigation are not new to Namibia or to the Namibian media. We have had many public figures blatantly making themselves guilty of all kinds of utterances not conducive to good race or ethnic relations. Although some may not be described as unconstitutional they have nevertheless been anti-constitution, national reconciliation and the building of good race and human relations. Despite the media went ahead to publish such utterances for the public to judge for itself. And indeed the public has been making its own judgment and Namibia is far from being a Mickey Mouse democracy as though it has got a long way to go.

If we are to encourage a trend where we cannot give editors the benefit of the doubt in terms of their judgment regarding the sensitivity of an issue, we as good as on the way to self-censorship and this is only the beginning of the death of media freedom.

Let’s be cautious not to jump to conclusion that this publication may be willfully guilty of incitement merely for publicising Muyongo’s utterances, unless of course we suspect some connivance of the publication with secessionism.

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