The purpose of this commentary is to address a growing and alarming trend in Namibia where some media houses and practitioners have come to wield inordinate power premised on personal preference and interest, directed against anyone or idea they don’t agree with, seemingly oblivious that they are grossly abusing a public good and trust.
Ironically, while the media is accusing government officials of public office abuse, it has become the worst offender in this regard. The stock of its crusading journalism component (interest-driven) has been rising spectacularly in Namibia, albeit with negative consequences, whereas elsewhere the genuine free press has been under siege.
Cases in point range from the seemingly emotionally dysfunctional, adolescence-fixated Rambler’s crude rantings being passed on as refined satire in The Namibian, to more serious, unapologetically crusading politically slanted articles in Namibian Sun and others.
But for brevity’s sake, we will consider a specific article which featured the Namibian vice-president in the previous week’s Windhoek Observer, building on a previous one, which discounted the vice-president’s office as unnecessary, and an editorial intimating that the current incumbent should be retired due to old age.
From the onset, I would like to qualify that my personal view of the Windhoek Observer has been one of a more serious newspaper, truly interested in the development, progress, peace and stability of Namibia and its citizens. It used to reflect responsible, objective, non-partisan, and yet patriotic, and fearless, values in its news content.
However, of late, a couple of articles and editorials seem to indicate a shift in the tone, direction, content and style of the newspaper, as it relates to political figures, such as the current Head of State, and in particularly the person of the vice president.
In this regard, the latest salvo on the front page of the October 7-13, 2016 edition, headlined, ‘VP Iyambo turns to Chinese medicine’ by a staff writer is instructive.
A closer inspection of the story reveals that the “facts” presented and the assumptions derived in the article are totally devoid of truth, since no serious attempt was made to verify the details and the story was impetuously printed on the front-page.
In essence conjectures were passed on to the public as empirical evidence, boldly ridiculing, with the aim to tarnish the character of an eminent personality such as a vice president.
The vice president is entitled – like any other Namibian citizen including the shareholders of the Windhoek Observer – to buy any medicine for health considerations. But in this specific instance, he bought Chinese tea and not Chitosan, as claimed by the newspaper article.
Therein lies the gist of uncalled for crusading journalism and the fundamental argument of this opinion: namely that the media is a public good and should be subjected to the same stringent scrutiny, highest standards of transparency and checks and balances as other public goods and offices to prevent abuse and corruptive decay inherent to those who enjoy unrestrained power.
Secondly, it was disingenuous for the newspaper to cite a complaint of inconvenience by unnamed taxi drivers as the basis for producing this conjecture of a story into existence from nowhere.
We all wish as the public, for those unnamed taxi drivers-cum paragons of excellent and considerate driving habits, to share with the rest of their colleagues, such exemplarily caring driving skills to uplift the driving standards of this industry in Windhoek.
Sensible Namibians know that giving right of way for the presidential motorcade is the correct thing to do and not a basis for unfruitful whining chatter.
Thirdly, trying to link the purchase of Chinese tea, which most of us are consuming, with reference to the so-called ‘collapse’ incident in Tsumeb, just does not add up. Is it the intention, of the newspaper to paint the vice president as unfit to hold high office? And is it the right of the newspaper to make such an assertion?
In fact, where would journalists untutored as human resource specialists derive this type of qualitative claims from?
I am sure that all sane people would agree that such a unmerited characterisation is a serious abuse of our famed media freedom.
We should be concerned that if this type of media abuse can be exerted on someone the caliber of vice president without any fear of consequent answerability, what the implications are for the men and women who have no financial or reputational standing to seek redress through the law?
Similarly, as the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches of government are not allowed to abrogate unto themselves more powers than conferred by the Constitution, the media should not be permitted to irresponsibly trample the rights of unsuspecting and defenseless citizens.
* These are the personal views of the author.