By John Ekongo
The Government of the Republic of Namibia is fully committed to upholding freedom of speech and expression in the country. The relationship between Government and the media is vital for the development of the country, according to the Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology Raphael Dinyando when he delivered a keynote address at this year’s World Press Freedom Day held at Keetmanshoop.
To demonstrate Government’s commitment to respecting the rights of the
media, the Namibian Go-vernment has not ill-treated any media practitioners to date, Dinyando said.
“No single journalist, editor, publisher, and other media workers were murdered, arrested, or censored in the process of freedom of speech and expression. Therefore, Namibia is proud of its record on freedom of speech and expression since independence,” Dinyando said.
World Press Freedom Day is a day designated by the United Nations to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and to remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression as enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The day is celebrated every 3rd of May, and Namibia was the birthplace of the day, when the Windhoek Declaration on Press Freedom was ratified here in 1991.
African journalists gathered in the capital to adopt the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic Press. The declaration became known as the Windhoek Declaration, worldwide.
At the same occasion, Christof Maletsky, MISA Namibia chairman, said that over the past months some disturbing habits had begun to take root in the country.
Maletsky said that currently there is a motion in the National Council which aims at stifling freedom of expression while Cabinet announced this year that the Government would “assist” the media to provide quality services to the Namibian people by setting up the Media Council.
He questioned Government’s reasons for wanting to be at the forefront of establishing a media regulatory body on behalf of the media fraternity. He stressed that all other regulatory professional bodies in the country have established their own watchdog institutions with no interference from Government.
“In Namibia, we have laws dating back to the 1940s. All of us, including Cabinet, agree that we need to repeal them. Should MISA Namibia now say that we will draft a new law because Government has failed to do it in 18 years? Did Government set up the Law Society of Namibia or the Engineers Council in Namibia?
“I am posing these questions because as media houses, we had a Media Council in place years back which became a virtual white elephant because some institutions funded by the State and the ruling party refused to be part of it,” Maletsky said.
The theme for this year is “Press Freedom, Access to Information and Empowerment of the People”.
It is against this background that MISA Namibia scheduled this year’s World Press Freedom day for the southern town of Keetmanshoop.
It was agreed by the participants that empowerment of the community can take place only if community media initiatives are supported wholeheartedly by both the media and Government alike.
“Community-based media ensures diversity of content and the representation of a society’s different groups and interests. Community media encourages open dialogue and transparency of administration at local level and offers a voice to the voiceless. The essence of community media is the existence of a commonality that unites people,” announced Dinyando.
The deputy minister said Government fully understands the role that community media can play in developing the country and as such the Government through his ministry has put mechanisms in place to support, sustain and empower community media outlets.
“Policy interventions such as a special licensing regime and the establishment of a media development fund to assist with the survival and growth of community media are some of the ideas on the table to address sustainability,” concluded Dinyando.
Meanwhile, as Namibia joins the world in celebrating the theme, various media experts in the country have of late bemoaned the trend of media repression in the country.
Director of the local chapter of media advocacy group for Southern Africa, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Namibia, Mathew Haikali, said that the environment of media freedom in Namibia has been shifting towards repression.
“The trend is not so bleak and it also not so bright – the past year has seen a lot of media people taken to court. We are not saying that the journalists are not responsible, however, people have somehow been using the courts using the defamation laws to take journalists to the courts as a way to silence the media,” bemoaned Haikali.
Haikali fears that if this trend continues it might serve as a deterrent for would-be journalists who want to join the profession.
Haikali indicated that during the past year, the media was put at the forefront of events and one such event was the proposed Media Council to be set up by Government, something MISA Namibia is totally against.
Haikali maintained that the media should be self-regulatory. He said that any body established by Government and personalities who do not understand the media might lead to souring of relations.
The same sentiments were echoed by Werani Zabula, Program Specialist for Communication and Media Development of the MISA Secretariat in Windhoek.
The MISA Secretariat is the regional media advocacy body, which coordinates and promotes good media practice in Southern Africa. MISA Namibia is an affiliate of the MISA Secretariat, and its headquarters are based in Windhoek.
“We don’t want the Government to set up a Media Council, progress has been made by the media industry itself to create a self-regulatory body, despite the differences of opinions. Instruments such as the Namibia Editors’ Forum have been looking at this,” commented Zabula.