In defence of media freedom in Namibia

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Today I write in defence of the right of media practitioners to practise their craft with minimal hindrances and obstacles. I also write as a patriot who everyday celebrates all national achievements since the advent of freedom in 1990 and therefore values freedom of speech, which includes media freedom as guaranteed by our constitution.

In 1991, Namibia also gave the world something to cherish with the penning of the Windhoek Declaration on Press Freedom in Africa. In part recognition of numerous national efforts at maintaining media freedom, Reporters Without Borders consistently rates us as the freest country on the continent and recently at number 16 in the world in terms of media freedom, which is no small achievement for any country. As its own voluntary contribution to a freer press environment, the media fraternity established the office of the media ombudsman. The subsequent Code of Ethics sets fairly lofty standards for the media fraternity. It, in part, states that (1). Every journalist shall strive to report news and events accurately, fairly and with balance. The Code of Ethics also obliges journalists (2). To give due regard to the possible negative effect to the subject of the article or broadcast.

On the morning of Thursday, 3rd March 2016, the country rose to a headline in the Namibian newspaper “Geingob Hits Pay Dirt” as they reported and opined on the tabling in parliament of the Presidential Remunerations and Other Benefits Bill. Once promulgated, it will repeal the Presidential Remuneration and Other Benefits Act, 2012 (Act No. 15 of 2012), which did not make provision for the new position of Vice- President. This is a transparent piece of legislation to govern how presidents and their spouses will be remunerated in future and not a “Geingob get rich quick” scheme as a careful reading of that article will have us all believe.
One Shinovene Immanuel penned the piece.

The same reporter took to Twitter (where he introduces himself as “Loves Arsenal. Senior investigative journalist and coordinator of the @TheNamibian investigative unit. Namibian @AFP correspondent. 2014 @amaBhunge fellow”). This was to further complement his reportage with the words “Pres @hagegeingob could earn around N$4m per year if he travels like last year. N$1.5m salary plus N$2.4m in travelling allowances in 2015.”

In a clear open war against the person of Dr Hage Geingob and in furtherance of what some declared to make the country ungovernable, this article confirms a worrisome trend in some segments of our society. The paper in question has been consistent in its hatred and stigmatisation of the President and evidently taken a stance of consistent anti-Geingob reporting since his inauguration a year ago. To that end, one is not too surprised about that piece. In fact, anything to the contrary would have been a pleasant surprise.

In relation to the two key provisions of the voluntary Media Code of Ethics cited above, I, therefore, wish to ask the following:
Does the Shinovene article measure up to and comply with both the letter and spirit of the Code of Ethics? Are the figures and information quoted in the Tweet and the print article accurate? Does the reference to the President as a “Millionaire President” constitute fair reporting? Is the article balanced in that it gave the Presidency the right to reply before publication? With regard to the possible negative effect that this shoddy excuse for journalism might have on the person of the President, has the reporter considered that fact carefully?

My submission is that the responses to the questions above are all in the negative whichever way one wants to interpret the said article. Why a paper should make lies and negative reporting its mission whilst claiming that it is “Still telling it like it is” one wonders.
As I conclude in full defence of the profession of journalism, it is important to underscore the fact that this type of shameful reporting does unimaginable harm to the Fourth Estate itself and must be challenged by all media practitioners of conscience.

Beyond the media fraternity and its image, consistent lies and untruths about the President and his administration further negatively impact the country’s standing at home and abroad. It harms the person of the President and his family. It also insults the intelligence of nearly 90% of Namibian voters who chose this candidate of SWAPO above all others, as if to suggest that they don’t know this man of 60 years of public service and international standing.

It is our patriotic duty to defend media freedom but we must also argue strongly for responsible, fair, and accurate reporting before third parties regulate the industry. Reporters must balance between rights and responsibilities. The voluntary Media Code of Ethics is an honourable start and members of the media fraternity also need to defend what is right before those freedoms are trampled on by demagogues and others.

We owe it to ourselves today and for generations to come.

• Albertus Aochamub is the Press Secretary at the Namibian State House and writes in that capacity.

Albertus-Aochamub

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