Time for self-introspection by local media

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Celebrating World Press Freedom Day on Wednesday this week, one could not but reflect on the fact that Namibia has dropped from 17th position last year to 24th in the rankings of Journalists Without Borders.
That represents a drop of seven positions. Despite the drop, Namibia is still the best on the African continent in terms upholding media freedom. Commendable as this may be, the drop cannot by any means be described as laudable or as something one should condone. Last week some media editors commented on this drop.
Common to their comments strangely, is that none of them seemed to dare any introspection on whether the media itself may, and/or could have been culpable in such a drop, which they squarely blamed on factors external to the media itself.
One would have thought such a drop would have offered media operators, and the media fraternity generally, an opportunity for an honest self-assessment and sober introspection on how the Fourth Estate equips itself for its critical task as an important player in the Namibian democratic dispensation.
More often than not, politicians have abrogated themselves the credit for the country’s enviable position as first in Africa in media rankings, even surpassing some of the countries with long traditions of democracy that the world has always seen as leading democracies.
It is almost as if the Namibian media does not deserve any credit for its professionalism over the years, and as among the factors that could have contributed to the country’s high ranking on the world media index.
At the same time, the country’s editors seemed to fall into the same parochial trap as politicians, who right/left and centre castigated the media, by the in same vein shifting blame to others, notably politicians.
The idea that the Namibian media could not have been partly responsible for the drop in one way or the other, speaks volumes about a measure of unprofessionalism inherent within the media itself, if not blind loyalty, protectionism and intellectual dishonesty.
There is no way, all things being equal, that the Namibian media can claim it has behaved impeccably or claim purity bordering on being saints. To err is human and forgiveness is divine. During the course of practicing our calling, there is no way we can say we have always been perfect.
One cannot but also wonder what indicators such rankings are based on? Do the organisations that publish the rankings purely base them on expressions by, intolerance and harassments of the media by politicians, and/or other powerful segments of the society like members of the armed forces?
If ranking are only based on such indicators, then one cannot but agree with the local editors’ perception that the establishment is solely responsible for Namibia’s drop in the rankings.
However, if they base the rankings on indicators beyond the alleged harassment and intimidation by the establishment, real or imagined, then surely the media must have some culpability in the drop.
The Namibian media has its imperfections that somehow our media operators seem to ignore, if you go by the recent comments of the editors about what may have caused Namibia’s drop in world rankings. The media holds everyone else responsible, except itself.
One of the important measures of media performance is the extent to which it adheres to media ethics. This includes principles such as accurate reporting, fairness, balance and objectivity.
No less important, but rather most important, is the matter of factuality. While generally the media has observed these ethical principles, it cannot be said that overall the Namibian media is ethical.
This applies especially to the all-important aspect of accurate and factual reporting. It is not rare for the media to have different versions of the same story or event. Not because of approaching them from different angles, but simply from an objectivity, fairness, accuracy and factual point of view.
Omission and/or non-observance of such ethical considerations, which have also – more often than not – rendered news reports false have not only led to accusations of irresponsible reporting, but have also culminated in the intimidation and harassment of reporters by unscrupulous politicians, often masquerading as the upholders of democracy.
There is a Media Ombudsman, but can we really say that he/she has been effective, and to what extent? The Media Ombudsman embodies a basic tenet of a free and independent media, especially in terms self-regulation and keeping media gaggers at bay.
Until the Media Ombudsman becomes an integrated element of the media fraternity and media culture in Namibia, it is unlikely the media will not become culpable in the explosive media environment, and ultimately blemish the good standing and ranking of the Namibian media internationally.
The media itself rarely appreciates or reflects on these matters, but is always quick to put the blame on others for the unhealthy media environment in the country.

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