Information minister Tjekero Tweya has “created a furor” with comments about media regulation in the country said President Hage Geingob, emphasizing that the Cabinet minister’s remarks are not the stance of Cabinet. During a meeting with the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation this week, Geingob said Cabinet recently discussed “the furore created by the Minister of Information[Tweya]” as well as the recent Fitch ratings in which NEEEF was also mentioned. “On both scores you can see the effects of perceptions and lack of communication, both those things[NEEEF and Tweya’s remarks] are not Cabinet policies. NEEEF did not come back to but even Fitch latched on it and commented on something that is not adopted by Cabinet. AS I have said, the offending percentage will be removed but for now it has not reached us for adoption by Cabinet and eventually by Parliament,” said Geingob when he met the state broadcaster’s leadership at State House. Tweya is not new to such controversies in which he makes pronouncements that are not adopted by Cabinet, in November last year he announced that the election day for the Regional and Local Authority elections will not be a public holiday, putting to bed speculations on social media suggesting election day would be a public holiday to give people time to vote. “There is no public holiday. There is no need for a public holiday. People must just go and vote and go back to produce. It will only take five minutes,” Tweya reportedly said in an interview with New Era.
But a day after after Tweya’s announcement, President Hage Geingob came out and declared that polling day will indeed be a public holiday, contrary to Tweya’s position. NBC has often received flak from opposition parties over perceived bias reporting in favor of Government and the ruling Swapo Party while opposition parties are left to scramble for coverage. Geingob reiterated his call for balanced and fair reporting, saying the media is only a transmission belt for information and should therefore not destroy messages conveyed because “we need each other to exist”. “I keep saying to journalists that they can keep writing until they get old but no one will arrest them because we fought for freedom of press and we regard the press as a fourth estate and a good partner. I do not want them[press] to praise us, but I want them to make a distinction between an editorial and news reports,” he urged. He added: “Do not editorialise the news…condemn us in your editorials.” He also touched on the issue of proper training of journalists. “Some of these things come from a lack of training. We[politicians and journalists] are being unfair to our people. We have a long way to go, you have some journalists who are only trained for six months but in America they have experienced journalists who are Masters and PhD holders with vast experience. But of course it will be unfair to compare our journalists to the Americans, the same way it is unfair for you[media] to compare us[politicians] to [US President Barack]Obama,” he said. Geingob said he was surprised to learn during a visit to Sweden that in that country classroom shortages and school dropouts is a challenge.
“I thought they were talking about Namibia, but it was surprising to see that a country with so many years of independence is facing similar problems to ours. That is why I say that we cannot reinvent the wheel but we must rather leapfrog,” he said. NBC board chair Sven Thieme threw his weight behind Geingob’s stance regarding the work of the media and further stressed the need for responsible reporting in the country. “In most cases it is not the story that is reported but rather what sells. In the end good stories left out. Critical stories must be balanced,” he said. Thieme came to Tweya’s defence saying the minister’s remarks were taken out of context. “I heard what he[Tweya] said about media regulation, I think it was taken out of context because I think he meant to say we must have responsible reporting,” Tweya claimed. Thieme called on the media to report in ‘nation building’ manner.
“If stories are not true we should have the right to take people to court. Only facts should be reported to get the right message across to the people. As a board we are trying our best to address these things because important issues should not be cut off for stories we think can sell which do not build the nation,” Thieme charged. At a recent Gender and Media Summit held recently in Windhoek Tweya, said his ministry will establish a statutory body to ensure that the media are held responsible and do not get away with murder. He said body will come into play in the event the media abuse their power to write, report and broadcast and making themselves guilty of defamation and slander of people’s character in public. The Namibian media is currently ranked first and 17th in media ratings in Africa and the world respectively. The ratings are seen by many to have been brought about by Government’s non-interference stance towards the media, but recent threats and comments regarding media regulation threatens the ratings. This is stated in the Windhoek Declaration and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The pundits argue that if the government continues on the path of state-regulation of the media, the country’s global ranking will definitely be affected. The Namibian media continues to oppose government regulation and have instead opted for self-regulation based on an agreed code of ethics through the Editors’ Forum of Namibia (EFN) that is in line with international standards.The Editor’s Forum of Namibia has since appointed human rights lawyer Clement Daniels as media ombudsman and introduced a complaints procedure, and has argued that there remains legal recourse if people feel aggrieved by unfair reporting.