WINDHOEK – The Namibian media ombudsman has revealed that his office is inundated with complaints against journalists and media houses. “The complaints are varied but, generally, relate to inaccurate, unfair and untruthful reporting as well as the dishonest gathering of news,” said the media ombudsman John Nakuta in response to questions on World Press Freedom Day. The complainants also vary, ranging from government officials, students, academics to politicians and immigrants, Nakuta further stated.
“I have also received two complaints alleging xenophobia and homophobia,” he said.
The revelation comes hot on the heels of Namibia’s downgrading from being the number one African country regarding press freedom in the latest index by the French-based Reporters Without Borders.
Namibia dropped two places from 24th position, while Ghana, at 23, is now Africa’s top country regarding media freedom.
Nakuta’s revelations of complaints against inaccurate, unfair and untruthful reporting coincides with the remarks by Vice-President Nangolo Mbumba on Tuesday. He said media houses are creating a negative narrative of the government.
“This narrative has been advanced by a small yet media-connected coterie of politically opportunistic people who seem to have vowed to target the government and denounce it as everything but good and competent until it is brought down,” said Mbumba in a speech at the International Workers Day commemoration held at Khorixas.
Mbumba lambasted the media for using social media to chronically paint President Hage Geingob in very dark colours.
“Under the disguise of freedom of speech, they daily and weekly harangue, ridicule and character assassinate the character and integrity of the sitting President, government and the ruling party, by misleadingly rehashing old stories or contriving fake news, to foster widespread hatred and discontent among the general Namibian populace,” he said.
Information minister Stanley Simataa yesterday however reiterated the government’s commitment to protect and defend the rights of journalists and independence of the media, saying it “will not impede their operations”, while “wishing the media in Namibia and beyond a happy and progressive celebration of the 2018 World Press Freedom Day”.
“As a government, we take note of the unwavering and unbreakable spirit of journalists despite the challenges they face. The media has continued to act as a relenting voice of the voiceless in its toil to expose corrupt practices and administrative malpractice, which if not exposed could be detrimental to the growth of society,” Simataa said in a statement yesterday. Simataa pointed out that the government is fully subscribed to the Windhoek Declaration, “a framework that we cherish so much not only because of its key durable principles, but because its birth in Windhoek places Namibia as a beacon of press freedom”.
“We reiterate our commitment to the defence and protection of the rights of journalists in Namibia and beyond. We do this by asserting our willingness to interact with the media and allow for the recognition of the rule of law that governs the operations of journalists in our country,” said Simataa.
Yet Nakuta was adamant that the work of journalists is vital for the country’s democracy. “I do therefore would like to use this opportunity to remind media practitioners to uphold the Code of Ethics and Conduct in the performance of their tasks. They should thus take extra care not to tarnish the name of their noble profession through unethical and unprofessional conduct,” said Nakuta.
He also cited a study conducted by the Media Institute for Southern Africa which referred to Namibia as a ‘closed society with hordes of restrictive legislation affecting the media’. The author of that report pointed out that in Namibia various legislative provisions are found which curb, instead of promote, access to information, noted Nakuta.
“This is all done under the aegis of state secrecy and public interest. Such laws, amongst others, include the dreaded Protection of Information Act (No. 84 of 1982). This Act for instance, contains overly broad provisions prohibiting, amongst others, certain acts in relation to prohibited places, obtaining and disclosure of certain information,” Nakuta said.
He also referred to the Namibian Broadcasting Act (No. 9 of 1991), which grants the information minister wide discretion and powers to interfere with the broadcaster’s independence. Similarly, the Public Service Act (No. 13 of 1995 as amended) contains provisions that prohibit civil servants from disclosing any information without prior permission of the permanent secretary.
“All these provisions are most definitely incompatible with the right of access to information as guaranteed under human rights law. Their repeal is long overdue,” he said.
Furthermore, all these call for the speedy finalisation of the Access to Information Bill and its passing into law, added Nakuta.
“Government must truly embrace the media as an ally to promote transparency and accountability as purported in the Harambee Prosperity Plan rather than view it as a nuisance and enemy of the state,” said Nakuta.
Simataa yesterday said the drop in Namibia’s ranking has motivated the government not to be complacent but to work tirelessly in collaboration with all stakeholders to expedite the enactment of the access to information legislation.
“Once enacted this legal framework will consolidate our foothold as one of the countries in the world with truly empowered citizens,” he said.
World Press Freedom Day is annually observed on May 3 to inform the international community that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights.