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A Great Responsibility for the Media – Namibia’s President Hage Geingob at World Press Freedom Day 2017

Red and black patches are covering the world map on Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) website. Alarming colours, alarming numbers. They are representing the countries where freedom of press and freedom of expression are in a critical state. Amidst them, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa stick out like a yellow beacon. Here, the freedom of press is granted. Yet, In 2017, the global status has never been more alarming.

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2017 World Press Freedom Index World Map ©Reporters Without Borders (rsf.org)

We live in a post-truth society, the Oxford Dictionary declared, naming it the word of 2016. In his keynote address, Namibia’s president, His Excellency Hage Geingob, summarises the problem: “Today everyone is a journalist. Through the abuse of media technology, a distrust in the media is built up”. On Social Media channels, all over the world, fake news are spreading.

President Geingob browsing through the programme. The main question:
President Geingob browsing through the programme. The main question: “How can media contribute to more just, peacful and inclusive societies?” ©Manon Steiner

The Power to Change

That’s why it is important that Hage Geingob is present in Windhoek’s Nampower Convention Centre (NPCC) on 10 May 2017. Together with the media, he is here to honour the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), a week after the worldwide celebration took place on 3 May 2017. Under this year’s title, “Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies”, the fundamental principles of freedom of expression, freedom of information, and press freedom are addressed.

Hage Geingob giving his keynote at the World Press Freedom Day 2017 in Windhoek. ©Manon Steiner
Hage Geingob giving his keynote address at the World Press Freedom Day 2017 in Windhoek. ©Manon Steiner

“Namibia will remain committed to press freedom and to critical minds”, the president promises. A free country needs their media to be analytic and thorough, especially when the lines are blurring online between advertisement, fact and fiction: “We are calling upon our journalists to practice their journalism with a clear conscience, liberated by accountability”. According to Geingob they have “great power to effect change” but also a “great responsibility”.

Hostility Towards Media in Africa

But that responsibility often comes with danger. The title of this year’s WPFD referred to the alarming situation presented by the World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) which had worsened by 62.2% since the previous year. According to RSF, a total of 72 countries out of 180 are in a critical state when it comes press freedom. All over Africa, the Middle East and Asia reporters are being persecuted for taking a stance against government and corruption. Often they are imprisoned, sometimes they pay with their lives.

Mr Bheki Mahhubu is interviewed by Gwen Lister, Executive Chairperson of the Namibia Media Trust. ©Manon Steiner
Mr Bheki Mahhubu is interviewed by Gwen Lister, Executive Chairperson of the Namibia Media Trust. ©Manon Steiner

Bheki Makhubu, editor of Swaziland’s “The Nation”, knows what that means. In 2014 he was imprisoned for criticising Swaziland’s chief justice and put in maximum security. Thus his verdict: “Hostility towards media is in fashion in Africa”. Now, free at last, he is sitting in NPCC, explaining why: “Many leaders have been liberation fighters. So they don’t understand why they are questioned.” And many people are sharing their view.

Namibia – Stand in Unity

For critical journalist like Makhubu, this means scrutiny from all sides. Especially in a country like Swaziland – one of the many red spots on WPFI. But he knows: Without free and independent journalists, democracy, justice, and the rule of law are at stake. So he continues to call the government to justice. Yet today, many young journalists are schmoozing with politicians, instead of investigating: “They are not encouraged to think critically because editors tolerate threatening calls from politicians and government is trying to dictate the press.”

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Audience at the World Press Freedom Day 2017 – at the podium: Ms Kiki Gbeho, UN Resident Coordinator. ©Manon Steiner

At least in Namibia, journalists like Dani Booysen of the “Editor’s Forum of Namibia” aren’t afraid to be “put under the magnifying glass”. Ranked 24 on WPFI, the country is Africa’s forerunner when it comes to press freedom. At the event, Booysen presented the EFN’s revised Code of Ethics. Bottom line: It is media’s responsibility to be self-regulating and accountable. And it is Namibia’s obligation as a nation to support journalists all over Africa: “Namibia needs to stop being humble. And you have to stand in unity with your African colleagues”, encourages Makhubu.

EFN Secretary General, Dani Booysen presents a summary of the EFN's revised Code of Ethics. ©Manon Steiner
EFN Secretary General, Dani Booysen presenting EFN’s revised Code of Ethics. ©Manon Steiner

The Roots of the Namibian Democracy

And in the end it is our own responsibility as citizens to ensure that the freedom of expression, access to information and a high standard of news don’t sink into the mud of censorship, click-baiting and sloppiness.

Journalists are the eyes of a functioning democracy, according to president Geingob. ©Manon Steiner
Journalists are the eyes of a functioning democracy, according to president Geingob. ©Manon Steiner

In Namibia, the premise for functioning, independent, and critical reporting is given. Yet, Geingob warns: “Journalists should not be attack dogs or lap dogs, they should be watchdogs.” Together with politicians and the public they have to make sure that peaceful, just and inclusive societies are kept and advanced so that Namibia’s yellow colour might rub off one day on their red neighbours and not the other way around.

– by Manon Steiner

Manon Steiner is a journalist, videographer and blogger. She is passionate about exploring different cultures and sharing her stories. Currently she is with the Hanns Seidel Foundation Namibia to further broaden her horizon.

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