Govt regulation gains traction

An Afrobarometer survey has found that Namibians' inclination towards media censorship is a reaction to false news, which is believed to be generated by social media, journalists and politicians.

19 February 2020 | Local News

The majority of Namibians believe that government should be able to limit or prohibit the sharing of false news (64%), information or opinions that it disapproves of (54%) or that criticise or insult the president (62%).

Yet around 55% of Namibians also believe unrestricted access to the internet and social media should be protected as it informs and helps Namibians to be active citizens.

These findings are contained in the latest Afrobarometer survey titled 'Free vs. false: Namibia's changing media landscape presents tough choices for citizens'.

The survey also found that 88% of adult Namibians own mobile phones, about 67% have access to radios while only four in 10 people own television sets and one in four people have their own computers.

“Daily internet use has multiplied over the past decade, increasing from 5% in 2008 to 28% in 2019. But more than four in 10 Namibians still never use the internet,” the report stated.

These findings follow information minister Stanley Simataa's announcement that Cabinet had approved a resolution to regulate social media and punish anyone spreading content that encourages young girls to indulge in sexual acts, which in turn leads to an increase in teenage pregnancies.

“What is contemplated is to explore the possibility of regulating with specific reference to harmful content shared on social media which has potential for the girl child to indulge in activities that may lead to pregnancy, and as a result, thwart the girl child of her right to education. This is the focus of the intended regulation. The modalities of realising such regulation will still be worked out,” Simataa said.

The Afrobarometer report states that Namibians' inclination towards media censorship is a reaction to false news, which is believed to be generated by social media, journalists and politicians.

“A majority of Namibians show themselves willing to accept government interference to limit false news, insults to the president and hate speech.

“Where citizens want to draw the line or whether they truly want to suppress information and opinions that are critical of the president or that the government disapproves of may take time, and greater experience with this changing landscape, to tell,” the report said.

While Namibians see their news media as largely free, popular support for media freedom to publish views and ideas without government control has declined sharply, from 74% in 2008 to 41% in 2019. Moreover, the majority of Namibians endorse a role for the government in controlling the sharing of certain kinds of news, information, and opinions through communications channels. Almost two-thirds (64%) of Namibians agree or strongly agree that government should be able to limit or prohibit the sharing of news or information that is false.

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JEMIMA BEUKES

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