Govt to analyse drop in press freedom ranking

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Kuzeeko Tjitemisa

Windhoek – Government is to engage with all stakeholders to analyse what went so wrong for Namibia to drop in ranking as the African country with the freest press, information minister Stanley Simataa told New Era.
In the latest index, French-based Reporters Without Boarders indicates that Namibia is ranked 26th in the world, having dropped two places from the 24th position which made it the country with the freest press in Africa in 2017.

Namibia was ranked number one in Africa for many consecutive years, but is toppled by Ghana in the latest index. The West African country, which gained it independence in 1957, is ranked 23rd in the world.
Speaking to New Era yesterday, Simataa said the ministry’s engagement with stakeholders would not be to argue the drop but to find out what contributed to the drop and how the previous glories can be regained.

“Our intention is to retain the number one status in Africa and eventually to became number one in the world,” said Simataa.

Presidential spokesperson, Dr Alfredo Hengari, said President Hage Geingob has demonstrated at all times commitment to freedom of the press.

He said the President repeated this call in May last year at the official World Press Freedom Day celebrations.
In light of that, he said the drop in the country’s rankings is “irritating”.
“President Geingob wanted an improvement on our global position to eventually become the country with the freest press in the world,” said Hengari.

“We have started to critically analyse the report of Reporters Without Borders, and corrective action will be taken to return the country to number one. Of course we don’t agree with some of the assumptions of Reporters Without Borders, which we believe are erroneous and don’t speak to the facts and reality on the ground,” he added.
Reporters Without Borders noted that although Namibia’s constitution guarantees free speech and protects journalists, the lack of a freedom of information law continues to obstruct their work. “Those who dare to criticise the authorities are often the target of government threats and seek refuge on the internet, where they are not subject to control,” said the newly released index report.
But like Namibia, Ghana does not have an access to information law.

The report says at the same time, self-censorship is common in the state-owned media. “Public order and security legislation is often used to restrict the freedom to inform, while journalists are sometimes the targets of insults or attacks by political parties,” it said.

According to the report, pro-government media receive a large chunk of their revenue from advertising, which threatens the financial prospects of the privately-owned media and independent news coverage. 

Namibian Sun editor Festus Nakatana yesterday told New Era that the country’s latest World Press Index is unsurprising considering the prevailing conditions in the media fraternity, which sees government portraying an open-door policy but being very sparse and scarce when it comes to responding to media queries on pertinent issues.
“We have also seen a proliferation of court cases where government is attempting to block the media from doing its job, including the recent case involving the Namibia Central Intelligence Service which is dragging a weekly newspaper to court in a bid to stop it from publishing so-called sensitive information,” said Nakatana.

The Patriot editor, Mathias Haufiku, who together with his newspaper is being challenged with a gag order court application by the Namibia Central Intelligence Service, said media freedom has been non-existent in most African countries, hence, celebrating African rankings is to a certain extent an indicator of how low targets are set.
“Namibia needs to compete on a global scale by breaking into the Top 10 world rankings to show that media freedom is indeed an ideal that is held in high regard in our country,” said Haufiku.

“We also know that the climate of fear and tension continues to erode press freedom in Namibia, which is due to the fact that officials in positions of power have entrenched the culture of secrecy and would do anything to hide their dealings,” he added.

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