Name-calling, threatening and belittling journalists based on their age rather than their work might be among what led to Namibia dropping seven places on the Reporters Without Borders’ latest world press freedom index released this week.
This observation was made by the editor of The Namibian, Tangeni Amupadhi, yesterday in reaction to the latest index, in which Namibia slipped to 24th globally, from 17th last year. The ranking features 180 countries.
Namibia however remains number one in Africa in press freedom, closely followed by Ghana and Cape Verde, which respectively rank 26th and 27th globally.
“I can only imagine that the open hostility our president and the minister of information have been increasingly showing towards a large section of the news media has contributed to Namibia dropping,” Amupadhi observed.
“When the president refers to media houses as ‘my enemies’, disparages journalists based on their age rather than their work, and is constantly threatening to compile a defamation dossier, while inviting journalists only to castigate them, the perception will not be missed about the true stance of the government,” Amupadhi reacted.
He said paying lip service to transparency and accountability is not enough.
Further, he noted, the nation has seen even government-owned media, such as the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation
(NBC), being attacked for supposedly focusing on “negative stories when our colleagues have actually done a good job to shine the spotlight on the plight of the poorest members of society”.
Amupadhi said there might be several other reasons for the drop in ranking, but added that the government has set an anti-media tone and ramped up the rhetoric, and that has not gone unnoticed.
New Era managing editor Toivo Ndjebela said the fact that Namibia is still top in Africa, home to 54 nations, is itself encouraging.
According to him, a lot has happened in the world in the past year, including changes of government.
Therefore, Ndjebela said, a reshuffle in the ranking was expected. “Seven places down the pecking order is quite worrying, but it is how we pick ourselves up that matters most.”
Despite going down seven places, the Namibian Sun editor Festus Nakatana said, Namibia has retained the top ranking on the African continent.
“We can still be proud to be considered as a nation with the freest press in Africa,” he said, adding that there appears to be a commitment on the side of the government to promote transparency and ultimately empower citizens through the access to information legislation, which is yet to be tabled in parliament.
He is hopeful that the government will support those who continue to advocate a pluralistic and diverse media, saying freedom of expression is guaranteed by Namibia’s rule of law and it is only fair that those in the top echelons of government realise that a free and safe media environment is essential.
Reporters Without Borders said Namibia’s constitution guarantees free speech and protects journalists, but journalists are often the target of government threats.
It further charged that critical journalists find refuge on the internet, where they are not subject to control, but self-censorship is common in state-owned media. “Public order and security legislation is often used to restrict freedom of information. Journalists are often the targets of attacks by political parties. This was the case during the 2014 elections, when both ruling party officials and members of the opposition attacked NBC journalists,” the organisation said.
South Africa, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Mauritania, Mauritius, Madagascar and Senegal complete Africa’s top 10 list.
Reporters Without Borders says that this year’s report reflects a world in which attacks on the media have become commonplace and strongmen are on the rise.
Overall, Africa comes out in the report as the world’s third freest region after the Americas, Europe and the Balkans, despite cases of the internet being routinely disconnected at election time and during major protests in a number of countries.