The local media has of late been alarmed, seemingly, by the minister of information hinting at the possibility of a clause in the Access to Information Bill allowing the regulation of the media by the State.
Under Article 21 of the Namibian Constitution, which guarantees fundamental freedoms, “the right of freedom of speech and expression”, which include the “freedom of the press and other media” is clearly guaranteed.
The minister’s perceived hint thus far seems to have just been in passing, and nothing categorical about the State’s intention to regulate the media exist.
That is why one cannot understand the ensuing exasperation and alarm. And that is why at this stage one cannot express oneself explicitly on the matter rather than in general terms.
This is more so following the minister’s attempt to clarify his stance this week, which for that matter seems to have done much to help allay the fears about State regulation of the media.
But while there is nothing on the table suggesting this is indeed the government’s plan, it goes without saying that the media will catch the flu when the minister sneezes.
This is perhaps why the media cannot take any such hint lightly, innocent as it may be.
“It is not uncommon for them [media practitioners] to exceed the bounds of media freedom and, consequently, to be charged in courts of law under law of defamation, sedition, plagiarism, etc,” reads an excerpt from the government’s White Paper on National and Sectoral Policies shortly after independence. The exceeding of bounds in the excerpt very much echoes the minister early this week about the abuse of the media by gatekeepers.
Yes, it may be a long way from 1991, and the media environment may have changed if not revolutionised since. But could the media really be said to have retrogressed since?
“As a preventive measure, there has been a call among Namibian media practitioners for the adoption of a professional code of ethics and the establishment of a Media Council, independent of the government,” adds the White Paper. One must emphasise that the call for a professional code of ethics in this instance has not been coming from the government but from within the media itself. For those who may not know, such a professional code of ethics is in existence today.
Currently, the professional code of ethics is enforced under the auspices of the Editors Forum (EF).
“The government aims to leave it to the practitioners of the media profession to work out the guidelines for the regulatory mechanism and institutionalisation of such a mechanism, and hopes that a culture of good journalistic standards and high quality of professionalism will evolve among the country’s media practitioners,” commits the said White Paper. It is any wonder what may have happened to this pledge, if the latest hint by the minister towards State regulation is anything. On the contrary, as alluded to earlier, if there is any sphere of the Namibian socio-economic, cultural and even religious endeavour, that has seen a revolution, for all intents and purposes, in terms of ethicality, professionalism or even diversity, it can be anything than the media landscape.
Namibia today also has the Media Ombudsman. For the benefit of those who may not be privy to the work of the Media Ombudsman, he is there to act as a public advocate in listening to public complaints, offering remedies, and most importantly, appraising the performance of media houses.
The best part of my working life, if not the whole of it, has been in the media, hence I speak with confidence and conviction when saying I have full respect and appreciation for the men and women running the various media houses, and the trials and tribulations they go through every second, every minute, hour and day to uphold ethicality and professionalism. It thus pains me to hear and see that this is little noticed and appreciated, especially by politicians.
But with hindsight, I must also admit the recklessness, negligence and a chronic lack of attention to detail, among some junior and senior colleagues in this trade.