Simataa doubts ranking is due to absence of access to information law

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Alvine Kapitako

WINDHOEK – The Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Stanley Simataa yesterday said it remains ‘doubtful’ that Namibia’s decline in ranking as first in press freedom in Africa is because of its lack of Access to Information law. The Minister said Namibia would do everything possible to finalise the Access to Information Bill.

It remains doubtful, however, whether it would have had an impact on Namibia’s ranking because Namibia continued to take first place in Africa even without an Access to Information Bill, the minister said.
“Even Ghana that toppled Namibia is yet to conclude its Access to Information Bill,” said Simataa who spoke at the official World Press Freedom Day event.

Namibia dropped two places from 24th position, while Ghana at 23 is now Africa’s top country regarding media freedom.

Reporters Without Borders said 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 a refuge on the internet, where they are not subject to control. At the same time, self-censorship is common in the state-owned media,” according to Reporters Without Borders.

“Pro-government media receives a large chunk of their revenue available from advertising, which threatens the financial prospects of the privately-owned media and independent news coverage,” he said.
There will be a thorough review, analysis and assessments to determine what has led to the steady decline of Namibia’s ranking over the years, including being ‘toppled by Ghana’ to second place so that we are guided by facts, said the minister.

“We intend to reclaim top spot because it belongs to us. That’s how serious we are as Namibians. We intend to topple Norway, which ranks first in the world. Why not? It can be done,” remarked the minister.
He said on a day such as World Press Freedom Day the focus should not only be on what Government is doing or not doing because “we are actively participating in this space. You too are players in this space. Members of the media need to bring their part to the party”.

The media fraternity should address the proliferation of fake news on social media platforms, added Simataa, stating that media practitioners sometimes fail to resist citing sources on social media platforms, which may not be correct as little verification is done.

“We have the responsibility to protect the public from wrong information. It’s a very delicate issue. The media should reflect on their effectiveness in carrying out their mandate,” said Simataa.
He also stated that the qualified journalists are fear as many have left the profession and therefore, “concerted efforts should be made to build capacity of upcoming journalists”.

During a panel discussion, the Executive Chairperson of the Namibia Media Trust and founder of The Namibian newspaper, Gwen Lister said that the media has to look at the quality of content that they put out in the public domain.

She also made reference to a survey that she conducted with the youth last year and found that most of them get their news from social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and print (media) is in the fourth
place.

However, in terms of trusting sources of information, Lister found that print, radio, television were still trusted sources of information while social media came in fourth place.

Admitting that digitalisation is a threat to the traditional media, Lister said there has been a decline in the past year of newspaper sales and advertising in the mainstream media.

“We have to be creative to get back the youth,” she said, stressing that the youth who are the majority are getting their news from unknown news sources on social media platforms.

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