This week we hosted the media ombudsman and chairperson of the Editor’s Forum in the capital of Zambezi Region, Katima Mulilo, which is located on the Zambezi River. There are no other major towns in this area, although it is fairly densely populated and travellers encounter numerous villages. This region full of rich history, is also surrounded by four perennial rivers – Chobe, Kwando, Linyanti and the mighty Zambezi.
It is important for me to give a review of the media coverage of the Zambezi Region from 2016 to 2018.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right as stipulated in Article 21 subsection 1 (a) freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media. It reinforces all other human rights, allowing society to develop and progress. The ability to express our opinion and speak freely is essential to bring about change in society.
Freedom of expression is important for democracy, because it enables the public to participate in making decisions based on the free flow of information and ideas. Without it, people would be unable to make informed decisions.
In Namibia we believe that one of the most important aspects of a democratic system is accountability. Not only accountability of individual politicians but also institutions, political parties and other decision-making entities. Free media is playing a big role in ensuring good governance and in spreading information to the public on what the politicians, leaders, institutions and parties are doing. It also makes sure that every opinion, regardless of how unpopular it might be, gets a chance to be heard and understood.
From 2016 up to date, we made sure that we inform the nation of developments, capital projects, what we intend to do and our challenges through media houses. We do experience situations of drought and floods and our people are always well informed and updated by the leadership and through media houses. We also faced a situation of land grabbing which resulted in some dwellings of land grabbers being demolished, and the situation was somehow blown out of proportion in perpetuating political scores. We also experience challenges of over-fishing and poaching in the region. We as well do have a serious situation of secessionism in the region which should be addressed by all of us by educating our communities on nationalism and patriotism because Namibia is a unitary state.
We are facing challenges of high unemployment, the scourge of poverty, high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, tribalism, morale decay and crime. How do we sensitize and educate our people? Here comes the importance of critical thinking, consultation, communication and coordination of all stakeholders in regard to leadership, socio-economic development and information dissemination to the public.
In some instances there have been a few complaints of being misquoted by the media, but follow-ups could clear up some mishaps. If media is not free and news are manipulated, this will take away from the citizens’ right to information and right to form an opinion based on information, which is very important in the whole democratic process. We believe in and accept constructive criticism which come in the form of education and providing alternatives. Free Press is the only thing that can assure Healthy Democracy.
In Zambezi Region we are looking forward to the free press to tell us about corruption, poverty, all forms of crime as these are ills that rot our efforts to provide better service delivery to our communities.
Nowadays we see press work based on sensationalism. They are not looking for truth, but for sensational news, e.g. causing intense interest, curiosity or emotion, you see a picture of a politician or an official or an existing title on the front page, but reading through the story, you read of something else. In some instances we have experienced that there is no research behind news. There should be no rush in publishing or running a story to avoid feeding us half lies due to lack of research and investigation.
The importance of press freedom in promoting good governance is underlined by the increasing numbers of people who have access to a number of media platforms like Caprivi Vision, Informanté, New Era, The Namibian, Confidénte, The Patriot, the Republikein, the Namibian Sun, The Villager and the Windhoek Observer. It is only when journalists are free to monitor, investigate and criticize a society’s policies and actions can good governance take hold. Good governance will always allow freedom of press, but authoritarianism and dictatorship will suffocate and dominate freedom of speech, freedom of the press and other media.
Free press helps in human development and good governance. The role that press freedom plays in our society will determine its importance. An independent press media acts as watchdog on the government, holding it accountable to the public as well as helping citizens to have a better understanding and knowledge on political choices.
In Zambezi Region we support freedom of speech and a free press so that our residents can make their leaders accountable of their own actions. It is imperative for the residents to have free flow of information on aspects of development and government policies. In this regard, the regional leadership must work hand in glove with the media in disseminating policies and developmental opportunities.
Let me end by quoting lawyer and free press advocate Trevor Timm who said: “An independent press is one of the essential pillars of a democracy, and we need to support journalists and whistleblowers alike to protect it.”