Namibia’s media is in a healthy state although it is not problem-free, founder of The Namibian newspaper Gwen Lister said.
She was speaking at a public lecture held at Nipam, moderated by presidential press secretary Albertus Aochamub, which was also attended by world-renowned journalist Anya Schiffrin who highlighted the importance of access to information.
During the session Aochamub asked Lister why the country’s biggest daily is registered as a public trust rather than a privately owned company.
Lister said: “In 1985 we setup a trust with Dave Smuts because we were donor funded from non-governmental organisations, and we felt that since we dealt with taxpayers’ money we had to be responsible because those countries helped us to fight for self-determination of the country.”
The Namibian has no ownership, she insisted, adding that: “Since we are a trust it helps to better effect truly independent reports and we believe in simplicity of structure. We are also not a company where you earn big salaries however we are profitable. Profits are redeployed to enhance press freedom or make contributions to the community.”
Lister described the state of journalism in Namibia as “healthy although it is not problem-free.”
“People must remember that journalism is a mirror to a society and a key concern is that journalists do not read enough,” said the media guru.
According to Lister: “Ownership remains an important issue for journalism, and whether it is private or state media, what matters is that editorial independence should be there so that journalists can work in peace and security.”
Schiffrin who viewed citizen leaks as the next big thing in journalism, hailed the advent of technology.
“Citizen leaks is the next big thing in journalism, big data has made this possible because all you need is a thumb drive. Previously it would take someone three weeks to copy the Pentagon papers whereas today this can happen at the click of a button.
Schiffrin is the director of the International Media, Advocacy and Communications (IMAC) specialization at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), and an adjunct professor at the School of International and Public Affairs.
NBC Director General Stanley Similo took the opportunity to explain the operations of the national broadcaster when asked how NBC manages to fulfill its mandate as a ‘state broadcaster’.
“We are not a state broadcaster but a state funded entity. Irrespective of the fact that we are state funded we have an independent editorial policy, meaning we will not take sides even when it comes to government. We will show them what is working and what is not working and it is up to them to reflect,” said Similo.
NBC has long been viewed as a mouthpiece of government and opposition have constantly complained that the national broadcaster is sympathetic to the ruling party by always giving prominence to news stories involving Swapo.
Similo also revealed that he gets phone calls from aggrieved parties who want to be featured.
“Yes I do get phone calls, for news mostly, because it is the flagship programme,” he said.
Similo said NBC places great emphasis on balanced reporting.
He also went down memory lane saying many media houses failed to stand the test of time, singling out NBC and The Namibian as the only two that made it till today with the same shareholders.
He also pointed to NBC’s decision to allocate free and equal airtime to political parties as one of the measures taken by the broadcaster to show its independence. But despite this effort, Similo said some parties failed to fully utilize airtime allocated to them during the last local and regional elections.
“At the moment NBC is busy going through a training process to increase the standards, it is tough but people are slowly getting there,” he remarked, adding that the broadcaster is also reviewing the manner in which news gets to the audience especially when it was circulated all over the social media.
Information permanent secretary Mbeuta ua Ndjarakana when questioned on the long-awaited Access to Information Bill said government will soon engage stakeholders for consultations.
“It has been long and coming because for a long time Namibians were denied information based on our historic reality but with independence we joined the journey to our own destination,” he said.
Ua Ndjarakana said a ‘layman’s’ draft version is available and that in the coming two weeks government will engage stakeholders for consultation.
Institute for Public Policy Research Executive Director Graham Hopwood expressed concern over information that is kept under wraps.
“The problem lies with the culture within government where officials would send us from pillar to post when we request for information,” said Hopwood.
According to Hopwood: “The National Development Plan makes provision for progress reports, but a year away from its end not a single report has been released.”
“Whenever we ask for it from the National Planning Commission we are told to wait and the same goes for the Delimitation Commission Report,” Hopwood said.
Aochomab reminded public officials that they are custodians of information rather than owners thereof.