It was refreshing, first, to see President Hage Geingob mix with journalists during the launch of the code of ethics and conduct for the Namibian media and, secondly, taking to the podium to guarantee press freedom as long as he is president.
It is a great statement of intent that is likely to have a positive impact on Namibia’s ranking in the next round of the world press freedom index, where Namibia slipped seven places down the pecking order this year.
Historically, Geingob – seen often as a naturally combative man – has had a good relationship with the media. He has held countless press conferences at State House where he opened up the floor for journalists to pose their questions almost willy-nilly, even on touchy subjects.
True, the country still has a long way to go in perfecting relations between the media and particularly the State, but the President surely needs support by the system he serves in.
A lot of his lieutenants in both the government and the ruling party Swapo do not seem to share the same attitude towards the media as himself.
Therefore, unless the President’s recognition of the value of the media is emulated by those who claim to be loyal to him and in support of the Harambee Prosperity Plan – which has transparency as one of its key tenets – the general relationship with the media would remain a suspect one.
Transparency cannot be fully achieved in the absence of a vibrant press environment that cast light into the darkness where many unholy practices take place to steal from the masses.
But this cannot be achieved if hostility and adversarial perceptions persist against the media. There are State officials who had slammed their doors to the media – no matter the subject. Essentially, they have declared themselves sworn enemies of the press. This isn’t helping Geingob and his pledge to guarantee press freedom.
The stunning display of tolerance by the President should not be unfairly exploited by the media and politicians who masquerade as practitioners in this industry. Too often, when such assurance is given, we become complacent – or even use this freedom to get at people and institutions unfairly.
We must meet government halfway by being responsible, sensible, fair and ethical in our work. Hiding behind a free press to commit pains and plot the downfall of others has no place under the sun.
Strictly, no one in the world can seek and ask for absolute freedom – whether journalist or not – as those that ask for it do not understand the true meaning of freedom. If that were the case, it would mean enjoying unfettered freedom to say and write about false news, or incite hatred on others. This is not the kind of freedom Geingob has guaranteed this week.
We therefore breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the President has reassured the nation and this industry that press freedom is guaranteed under his leadership. Indeed, as per the President’s advice, practitioners must be watchdogs and not attack dogs or lapdogs.