President reaffirms commitment to press freedom

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Albertina Nakale

Windhoek-Whereas hundreds of journalists have lost their lives and others faced prosecution in the line of duty at the hands of repressive regimes in other parts of the world, President Hage Geingob yesterday vowed to uphold press freedom in Namibia.

“Let me tell you here that as long as I am given the mandate to lead this great country, the freedom of the press is guaranteed,” Geingob told assembled journalists and editors during a belated World Press Freedom Day event.

Press freedom in Namibia has been praised internationally, as evidenced in the latest 2017 World Press Freedom Index where Namibia was ranked 24th globally out of 180 countries.

According to the rankings by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Namibia tops Africa in press freedom, followed closely by Ghana and Cape Verde, which respectively rank 26th and 27th globally.

United Nations resident coordinator Kiki Gbeho, who also graced the event, said far too often murder remains the most tragic form of censorship and noted that 102 journalists paid the ultimate price in 2016.

“This is unacceptable and weakens societies as a whole. This is why UNESCO is spearheading the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and [addressing] the issue of impunity with partners around the globe,” Gbeho stated.

Geingob said today, in an independent Namibia, “We pride ourselves on our governance architecture, which is rooted in democracy, unity, peace, stability and the rule of law.” He said the Namibian press, as observers of the country’s political process, form part and parcel of the governance architecture, with the responsibility of ensuring that elected officials are held accountable and deliver on promises made.

He said in an age where the consumption of media has become as necessary as food and clothing, Namibia is proud of the fact that the nation enjoys the freest press in Africa. In fact, he said Namibia outranks long established democracies, such as France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America on the RSF’s global press freedom index.

“And when we talk of restrictions on press freedom, it is actually in those countries where such freedoms are under threat of being severely curtailed. This is not to say that we are happy with the status quo in our country,” Geingob maintained.

Far from it, he said, there is a need for Namibian media to become the freest in the world.
“We are talking about being number one, not just in Africa, but in the world. I often talk of the formula I have conceived: accountability + transparency = trust. For trust to be established, we need both accountability and transparency. It does not take a genius to see that the media has an enormous responsibility in this process,” the president said.

In today’s world and in the last couple of years especially, there has been growing distrust of leaders around the world, he noted. Globally, levels of transparency and accountability are slowly being eroded and there has been a backlash by the people affected, he added.

He said this distrust has been capitalised upon by individuals who champion the anti-establishment doctrine and have given rise to a growth in populist ideology and populism.
“We have witnessed this over the past several months during elections in the western world. In a world where the freedom of press is curtailed, people become their own newsbearers and we end up with a flood of unsanitised and unverified information, and the newly coined concept of fake news,” he said.

Media diversity, including the speed and power of social media, Geingob said, has brought new challenges: “Today, everyone is a journalist! That makes it difficult for anyone to get reliable news.”

For this reason, he cautioned media practitioners always to keep in mind that, “With great power, comes great responsibility” and said they must guard against becoming lap dogs or attack dogs, but should rather be the watchdogs and must also nourish critical minds with critical thinking.

He cautioned against the abuse of media freedom, saying there is a growing number of people in society who distrust mainstream media reports.

He said journalists must know they are also accountable for the information they convey to society.

“When government speaks of introducing checks and balances with regards to the press, we are not calling for our journalists to be muzzled, rather we are calling upon our journalists to practice their journalism with a clear conscience, liberated by accountability,” he noted.

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