Media should be a watchdog, not lapdog

11 May 2017 | Government

President Hage Geingob has implored the local media to stick to its role of watchdog instead of playing lapdog.

Speaking at the World Press Freedom Day that was celebrated in Namibia yesterday, Geingob reminded journalists that with great power comes great responsibility, and a free media was key in effecting change. The president was lauded for his presence in attending the event, setting an example for other presidents and countries to follow. While Namibia has been ranked as the freest country in Africa and 24th in the world when it comes to media freedom, Geingob made it clear that the country should not accept the status quo and must strive to be the best in the world. “We want our media to be the freest in the world. We are talking about being number one, not just in Africa, but in the world.”

At the same time Geingob said that media freedom will always be guaranteed while he remains president.

“Let me tell you here, that as long as I am given the mandate to lead this great country, freedom of the press is guaranteed.”

He said that in a time where the consumption of media has become just as necessary as food and clothing, Namibia is proud of the fact that it has the freest press in Africa.





“In fact, our press freedom index still outranks long-established democracies such as France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. And when we talk of restrictions on press freedom, it is actually in those countries where such freedoms are under the threat of being severely curtailed.”

Geingob further said that if the freedom of press is curtailed, people become their own news-bearers and the end result is a flood of un-sanitised and unverified information, and fake news.

“Media diversity, including social media, has brought new challenges. Today, everyone is a journalist! That makes it difficult for anyone to get reliable news.”

According to him, newspapers have therefore gained a new respect in this environment.

“Even the television newscasters refer to the print media to give credence to their broadcasts.”

He stressed that the importance of responsible journalism is more important now than it has ever been.

“Today, news is being consumed in a manner and at a rate which is unprecedented. The influence of technology is real. Global news outlets have platforms for user-generated news where viewers are allowed to post video clips or stories, giving their views on a particular news story. Everyone, leaders and others alike, are on Twitter.”

Geingob said that with the ever-increasing ability for individuals to generate their own news, traditional media is often caught off-guard and left behind. This allows for journalists to misuse these platforms to pursue their own agendas.

The head of state also called for responsible journalism.

“When government speaks of introducing checks and balances with regards to the press, we are not calling for our journalists to be muzzled; rather we are calling upon our journalists to practice their journalism with a clear conscience, liberated by accountability.”



Editor speaks out



Guest speaker at the event, Bheki Makhubu, editor of The Nation magazine in Swaziland, spoke highly of Geingob's presence in addition to praising Namibia's democracy.

“It is a big deal to have a president at such a gathering. I do not know much about Namibian democracy, but maybe you should show off more and stop being humble,” he said.

Makhubu said that if more leaders in Africa would follow Geingob's example it would be a step in the right direction.

In March 2014 the Swazi government charged Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko with contempt of court for criticising the judiciary. After a lengthy and irregular trial, they were convicted and sentenced to serve two years in prison.

They had both written articles in Makhubu's magazine, The Nation, in which they criticised the Swazi judiciary and the chief justice.



Threats



Meanwhile, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa Namibia) said senior politicians insulted and intimidated journalists over the last year, as well as threatened and initiated attempts to regulate the media.

In the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Regional Overview on the state of media freedom in southern Africa in 2016, the organisation says that it is important to note that in as much as Namibia has a lot to be proud of, there is room for improvement, in particular with regard to ensuring that the diversity of voices present in the country is amplified.

According to the report, unfettered access to social media has provided citizens with a wonderful platform on which they can access information, and express themselves on issues of public interest.

“There is no denying that social media provided an impetus for citizens to fearlessly engage on issues of national and international interest. We live in a media and information age, thus the importance of media and information literacy (MIL) cannot be overstated.”

It says that Namibia wouldn't have become an international media freedom leader if the country had a government that aimed to regulate and censor expression.

“There is a sincere hope that the recent attacks by political leaders against the media will cease, and that all sectors of society will recommit themselves to upholding Namibia as a best practice model of the Windhoek Declaration,” the report concludes.



ELLANIE SMIT

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