An obligation to share information responsibly

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IN the world of digitalisation and communication mobility, the fluidity of information requires responsible handling – responsible as in ensuring that the information being relayed to the public is accurate, fair, unbiased, truthful and without a grain of doubt about the context within which the information is being relayed. The business of sharing information comes with the need for its responsible handling, particularly by the fourth estate, the media. It is the very holy grail of journalism, the foundation of the profession and the stool on which scribes perch to execute their calling.

It is thus distressing that often the checks and balances have been found wanting. The results of misinformation are evident, with cases of malnutrition being referred to as cases of drought famine. This is not to say malnutrition deserves a back burner, on the contrary, it does deserve vigorous in-depth reporting. However, a screaming headline of “Drought Kills 3 People” is, simply put, a blatant lie.

 

Three months ago foreign media picked up such headlines, with one foreign news agency going as far as to do its own ‘expose’ on the ‘famine in the dry country that has received less than average rain in the last season compared to previous rainfall seasons’. The report went on to use the Namib Desert average rainfall figures, citing specifically the average rainfall figures in Walvis Bay, Henties Bay and Swakopmund, to indicate just how dry Namibia is this season, the depth of the drought and the famine. The story was rounded off with pictures of dead cattle carcases and the picturesque Namib dunes, with snippets of Namibia being a semi-desert country. The author, obviously, did not know that there is no grazing for cattle in the areas mentioned in the story.

It was thus refreshing to observe this week Wednesday the Prime Minister Dr Hage Geingob tabling in the National Assembly what is perhaps one of the most fresh, up-to-date and comprehensive reports on the drought. It was an occurrence in the august house that should be lauded. Not only was the report current in its content but it also gave an impression of a very senior corporate executive who is in constant touch with his line managers, and thus has intimate knowledge of what is happening within various subsidiaries of ‘Namibia Incorporated’.

The report gave insight on each region, as well as areas of improvement and where the Prime Minister’s Office is planning ground visits. It does instil confidence in the public to observe that politicians are not out of sync with the reality on the ground. More importantly, it also gives assurance that the millions of dollars in hard cash, food, and other goods donated by the private sector and foreign friends of Namibia are destined for good use, reaching the people on the ground and they are not just being stuffed in warehouses somewhere rotting. Not to say that is what has been happening, but the public are inclined to cynicism.

 

It would be nice if Cabinet Ministers share such information regularly or to save costs simply re-activate the government website. There was a time when the website was the most useful government source of current and up-to-date news. Speeches, frameworks and draft papers for public consultations were loaded within an hour or two, at times minutes if the event happened in Windhoek, for the media and the public to access immediately. Bills under discussion in the National Assembly and other important documents were available immediately for the public to keep pace with the working steps of the legislature and the executive. Alas, that regime did not last long. It is time to walk with globalisation, perhaps then everyone would not be found wanting, from the source of news to those who relay the news, and information would be handled responsibly.


By The Editor

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