Challenges of constructing a democratic developmental state

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President Hage Geingob this week met editors from various media houses and discussed, not so much issues related to government programmes, but how relations between the two parties could be improved.

Dismissed by some as an attempt to coerce the media into becoming puppets of the presidency, the occasion was – to the contrary – characterised by a frank, but fair exchange of views between the president, prime minister and editors.

President Geingob started off his presidency on a similar note – having held so many press briefings at which scribes were afforded opportunities to ask any questions related to the governance of the country.

The meeting at State House on Monday was therefore simply a continuation of his perpetual engagement with the media, as he continues to refine his strategy to make government more transparent.

Perhaps the one single biggest result of that engagement was a mutual sense that everyone that lives in Namibia has a natural obligation towards making this country a better place.

If you like, the meeting chartered the role of the media in building a Namibian society – complementing what government is already doing.

The aim was to develop greater cohesion between the media and government, so they can move towards a common agenda and development language.

Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, speaking at the same occasion, emphasised the need for an objective presentation of the Namibian reality.

Greater cohesion between the media and government does not mean the press will now ignore the bad and the ugly in our society. If anyone had hoped this would be the case, they are grossly mistaken.

What the media is likely to do going forward is that they will strive to be more objective and less sensational, but will present the true state of our nation – even if it means making the powers that be uncomfortable.

By ignoring the bad and the ugly in our society, the media would be failing spectacularly in its broad mandate of informing and educating. It is a mandate no one can tamper with.

Good governance and accountability, which President Geingob has made the pillars of his Harambee Prosperity Plan, cannot be achieved in the absence of vibrant and critical media in the country.

The press is there to drive effective and dynamic communication between policymakers, politicians and their constituent populations.
That role cannot be fulfilled unless there is commitment by all and sundry to maintain the value of free and fair media, and of expanded, networked journalism.

The PM made a valid observation that media houses need specialist reporters who can provide authoritative coverage of complex issues, such as budget analysis and other subjects.

She said being a graduate of journalism does not make one an expert on every subject, a point that the country’s editors must start pondering if the level of journalism in this country is to reach new heights.

It’s a glaring weakness that is evident in almost every media house in this industry and Kuugongelwa-Amadhila was spot on in her observation.

Democracy is an expensive commodity and so is peace and stability. The media is an important catalyst of both, and depending on how the might of the pen is used, it could make or break these important pillars on which our country’s future rests.

We therefore urge that Monday’s face-to-face engagement with the president should not be the first and last of its kind. Continuous engagement would enhance trust and the sense of common responsibility between government and the media to build a better Namibia.

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