On Tuesday the Namibian media observed World Press Day – a day usually marked on May 3 worldwide. Ideally all and sundry with any connection to the media business of gathering and disseminating information are to observe the day.
This, I must hasten to say, should not include those in the business of fabricating and faking news.
As a whole, gathering information and distributing it is not an end in itself but a means towards an end. Yet more often than not the media have come to consider their role and function in society as an end in itself. Because of the fear societies harbour for the media, especially in the developing world, media personnel have come to consider themselves as demigods, or even celebrities, instead of being servants of society.
Their role should be to ensure societies duly access information and are informed, thus able to make informed choices and decisions in their many and varied facets of their living. Thus access to information rather than informing is the ultimate role and function of the media. Access because informing has the undertone of propaganda, which is unethical in terms of journalistic ethics. Needless to say such information must be authentic. One source of such authenticity is government. But this does not mean that every bit of information emanating from government, or any other source in a position of generating information, is authentic.
It is thus the function and duty of the media to decipher and process such information for easy consumption and use by the end user, which is the John or Mary Public. Hence the need to process such information in an ethical manner, which includes objectivity and balance, two of the ethical principles of journalism, but by no means the only ones and foremost.
Namibians observed World Press Day in the aftermath of the relegation of the country by Reporters Without Borders on the global media rankings, from first in Africa, to second now to Ghana. As a media worker of years I cannot understand what, where and how since last year, Namibia may have gone wrong to deserve relegation to second position.
This columnist has not only been part of the media scene in this country since independence, but has integrally been involved in and with it for the better and best part of his life. I am not only firsthand conversant with the goings-on within, and as far as the media has been at the any sharp end of the powers that be. I therefore know what self-censorship, as cited by Reporters Without Borders, means.
I also understand the invisible hand of the powers that be in terms of controlling the media, having had a run-in with peoples of powers at times – especially because of this very column.
The relationship has been akin to the general relationship between the media at large, and the powers that be, whether business, private or public, sometimes cordial, and at times adversarial and tense. I don’t see to what extent such have changed either way, for the better, or for worse, to warrant the country’s latest relegation.
In fact I can dare submit that during the period in question the Namibian media have enjoyed relative peace with the powers that be. Thus it is not hard to postulate why Namibia may have been pipped to her first place by Ghana. Yes, given the fact that the media environment may not have been the best in Ghana, came the slightest semblance of betterment, while Namibia remained constant.
This signals an important signal to especially the Namibian media. That it cannot become complacent and must at all times jealously guard its gains that propelled it to the top of the charts.
We cannot remain constant as far as our media environment is concerned. Every second, minute, day, month and every year, we must gear up because unless we do so, even the worst country on the continent can supersede us in ranking.
But the question that one needs to ponder is the role of the media itself in allowing their environment to become worse. Granted that a healthy media environment is largely a function of the powers that be, meaning the government of the day, I strongly believe that the media itself can at times compromise its own environment. Because after all the environment and playing ground are for a greater part the media’s, and only theirs. I strongly believe it is only the media that foremost can be its own keeper and not the government. But media workers need mobilising.
‘Cause currently they seem a benign lot without a shepherd. The Misa Namibia and JAN of yesteryear have been conspicuous in their absence of recent, only to the detriment of the media. Thus the world rankings starts to speak volumes.