Media integrity key in reclaiming free press ranking

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News this week that Namibia has dropped in terms of global press freedom ranking leaves an unwanted black dot on our country’s efforts to strengthen its democracy.
The blame has been squarely placed at the feet of the government, especially by the Namibian chapter of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA), but there is more than meets the eye.
In fairness, it could be argued that in the same manner that governments get plaudits for press freedom they should too shoulder the consequences that come with the declines in ranking. Whether right or wrong, it is almost inevitable.
But in strict terms, government, admittedly a key catalyst, isn’t responsible for all the things that lead to good press freedom ranking. In the same breath, therefore, they are not to blame for all that lead to a decline in these rankings.
It is worth mentioning from the onset that despite dropping seven places from being 17th last year to 24th this year on the global ranking, the country remains firmly on top in the African region.
To be on top is an astonishing luxury, but not a right. Nations must fight for the very top and those who snooze would lose. Perhaps Namibia snoozed, and that itself is a valuable lesson.
Perhaps the one aspect that we often overlook in relation to media freedom, and how that freedom is handled to impact democracy, is how the media carry themselves in this country.
There is a steady erosion of integrity in the fraternity, anchored in blatant disregard for ethics and values that have shaped the existence of respected traditional media over the past century.
Press freedom has been used as a wall behind which some media practitioners hide to wage wars against people and institutions they don’t like.
Not much weight is given to the responsibilities attached to freedom of the press, which in strict terms does not mean unfettered freedom in totality.
Press freedom entails certain responsibilities. As practitioners we are called upon to safeguard human rights and to ensure the proper functioning of our country’s democracy. The power of the press should not be wielded recklessly or thoughtlessly, but always guided by conscience and careful thought.
Consumers of local news today have an extra responsibility – to filter sense from nonsense and differentiating between issue-based reporting and trivial stuff.
Namibia’s freedom is not reserved for the media alone. Every citizen – and even non-citizen – is also protected by the same constitution of the country.
We therefore cannot expect that people would look on while their rights are being abused willy-nilly under the pretext of press freedom. People will fight back. They will protect themselves against abuse.
And when such happens, either through public denunciation of the press or lawsuits, international watchdog groups would often jump to conclusion that media freedom is being suppressed, when it is in fact people defending themselves from abuse by the media.
Our responsibility, especially in the context of accountability, is to serve as a watchdog on those in power and ensure they do not abuse the privilege of being the custodians of both power and national resources.
But those in power too are citizens protected by the same constitution and can therefore not be subjected to false insinuations and unsubstantiated accusations of wrongdoing.
The press has a responsibility to thoroughly investigate matters impartially. The electorate would then make informed decisions at the ballot, rather than voting on the basis of lies and innuendos created by the media.

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