The local media landscape has in recent times received credit for its contribution to the growth and development of the country-but despite the pat on the back-it has also come under harsh scrutiny for some of its works.
Because the media industry is constantly changing, Editors Form of Namibia’s Chairman Joseph Ailonga says one of the biggest issues that people need to be on the lookout for that poses a threat the local media landscape is fake news.
During an interview with this publication recently, Ailonga expressed fear that: “It[fake news] will dilute the values of ethical journalism which will in turn create a distrusted media which audiences will no longer follow.”
He also added that some of the emerging threats to Namibian media include “both verbal and physical harassment and passive bans through the direction of funds or information.”
The Namibian media landscape has operated under a relatively peaceful climate since Independence, but Ailonga warned that such peace should not be taken lightly and that measures should be crafted to sustain media freedom. “Let us continue living by the culture of the Windhoek Declaration and allow for self-regulation to continue as the Modus Operandi. The media has its role to play and if all media institutions come together under one umbrella, following the code of ethics that has just been relaunched, then we can have a strong leg to stand on in sustaining the status quo,” he said.
When questioned what some of the factors are that could derail media freedom in the country, Ailonga responded: “A divided media, lack of training of media practitioners, lack of ethics, lack of political will or change of political power and an absence of access to information law. The lack of media practitioners and an absence of laws protecting them is another.”
In recent years the local media has often been accused of sensationalism and twisting news stories, a debate that continues unabated, Ailonga made it clear that the EFN will not and does not stand for non-factual reporting.
“We do not stand for non-factual reporting of any kind and we urge all media practitioners to adhere to the Code of Ethics. Anything that is not factual is bad journalism, period. This is not in line with what the profession stands for at all.
This is a profession that is similar to being a doctor and you hold people’s lives in your hands, when you hurt them intentionally then you are breaking the oath to that profession. We do not see so much sensationalism but perhaps lack of information in stories that are true, maybe sloppy reporting is a better word to use,” charged Ailonga.
There has also been claims that the art of journalism has abdicated its true role because it is facing difficult challenges-especially regarding the emergence of social media- and many media have since considered that the only way to conquer or retain the public is bannalisation, or frivolisation of journalism. Ailonga partly agreed this assertion.
“To an extent yes, because many are getting sloppy and too emotional in executing their duties but fake news is contributing heavily on this,” he said.
Transformation was a promise, a hope for a more just future that was a key part of the Swapo’s appeal way back in 1990. Given the role that certain news organisations played in supporting the apartheid government and those that supported the struggle for Independence, the need to transform the media was crucial.
Fast forward 27 years, and transformation in the media is still a work in progress. Laws to regulate online platforms have been passed swiftly, but those that grant the media the right to self-regulation remain a pipe dream.
On the gender front, to say that there are women who are selected primarily because of their gender is a bit of an insult, but many still think that the media reflect a narrow band of innuendos that tends to serve the interests of men. This is a pervasive issue in the media, not just in Namibia, but it is compounded by society’s chequered history and the fact that not much has changed for a lot of Namibian women in most sectors.
Ailonga however believes that women in the local media industry are on the rise, in fact, you cannot talk about the Namibian print media and not mention Gwen Lister, the same can be said about Menesia Muinjo in the broadcast sphere. These are all indications that women in the local media landscape can rise to the top.
“Women are on the rise here and there are institutions where women are even dominating in the top echelons of the media houses. I think we are on track here and just need to keep it growing”, he said.
Talking about some of the challenges encountered by female media practitioners, Ailonga said: “We are not receiving so much complains around female journalists apart from the stories where there are talks of women being harassed both by supervisors and potential employers.”
But you cannot discuss transformation without talking about the most influential news outlet in the country, the NBC. At first glance, the state-owned broadcaster looks like a success story — transforming from a bilingual state outlet that excluded many more viewers than it attracted, to a broadcasting network that speaks to the country in all of Namibia’s official languages; an institution that is proudly diverse across the board. But there are a growing number of critics who say transformation at NBC has merely been a guise for the Swapo Party to insert pro-government executives into the channel who ensure that the ruling party gets favorable coverage. All these allegations have never been proved beyond reasonable doubt however.
Regarding the appointment of a new media ombudsman, Ailonga said: “We have put out the call and we will be confirming the new media Ombudsmen hopefully on 14 July 2017 at the elective AGM of the EFN. So we call upon the public to get involved in this process as there are other members that will be voted into different positions of the complaints process.”
Ailonga said at the moment EFN is not much involved with tertiary institutions to ensure that the teaching standards at such institutions meet the market needs, but he indicated that “we are working on this at the moment but the code has become part of the curriculum of certain institutions.” Ailonga had this to say to media students that are looking to break into the industry.
“Passion and commitment, not the money is what drives great journalists. A need to know more, a need to tell the truth and a need to stand up for what is right is what makes people get even when under threat in pursuit to tell the truth. You[journalists] are the voice of the voiceless and the watchdogs of humanity, thus live up to those standards in your school life so that you can continue living it in your practicing life.
Yours is to aspire to be ethical in your whole process at all times and to have that integrity no matter what,” he said.
He also called on the media to forge the spirit of unity “because we are under threat from technology which is the propagator of fake news, which will threaten our existence.”