THE World Press Freedom Day comes at a time when threats, intimidation and even killings of journalists for their work has become a norm in repressive regimes, including the world’s oldest democracy, the United States where one Mexican journalist, Emilio Guiterez Soto has been jailed.
He faces deportation by the Trump administration, a decade after fleeing from Mexico in fear for his life after being named on a hit list of journalists.
Back at home, Namibia’s ranking has fallen to the 26th on the latest reporters without borders index, being overtaken by Ghana at 23 and irking concerns amongst the media landscape as well as government.
The main factor attributed to Namibia’s decline on the index could be the lack of an access to Information law which compels public officials to avail information in public interest to journalist when prompted to do so.
While this is regrettable, it is worth highlighting that although the Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Stanley Simataa has expressed regret at Namibia’s decline, he has vowed to improve the country’s ranking amongst the top ten globally.
It is also heartening to note that government is taking media freedom very seriously and will speed up the tabling of the draft legislation on the Access to Information.
The lack of legal obligation on public officials to avail information to the media helps to deprive readers of vital news to helps them make informed decisions about their own welfare and the future of the country.
The absence of legislation to compel public officials to be accountable to the media has always helped to shield corrupt officials to justify their non-responsiveness to media queries. It has also forced journalists to resort to unorthodox means of obtaining information which has made investigative journalism a very difficult task to accomplish.
The Access to Information legislation will enhance efficiency and accurate reporting from journalists because currently it is even difficult to obtain municipal council minutes (which ought to be in the public domain) for fact checking.
The lack of such legislation has made it difficult for investigative journalism to thrive because, even if Namibia has an independent judiciary, it seems intolerable for journalists to err.
The consequences are harsh defamation suits which pulsate into chilling effects.
Some of our journalists have also endured insults and verbal attacks from influential and highly placed public officials who often take our reporting as offensive when exposing their dirt. Verbal violence could potentially lead to actual violence.
“Keeping Power in Check”, as this year’s World Press Freedom day Commemoration in Windhoek highlighted, can only be realized in a conducive and enabled legal environment where it is made impossible to conceal vital information.
Journalists need to be assured that they will be protected by law in executing their duties.
In retrospect, journalists, through the media bodies such as the Editors Forum of Namibia also need to devise means and ways how to mitigate the proliferation of fake news and vitriolic attacks by nameless figures on the social media.
We need to educate our readers to help distinguish between yellow journalism, vitriolic social media hogwash and authentic news through media literacy.
The World Press Freedom Day perhaps implores on Namibian journalists to revive our own interest bodies such as the Journalist Association of Namibia (JAN) and the Press Club to horn ou
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015