Let’s already establish that I do not advocate for media censorship by asking who is holding the media accountable. In this week alone, we saw the Namibian apologising for publishing fake news twice on a lady who faked her academic accolades.
Again, The Namibian angled an article on one out of a handful of recommendations made by the Bank of Namibia on how policy makers can make better decisions to pull our economy out of the economic rut we sit in. This selective reporting in my opinion instigated uninformed reactions by trade unions (NANTU and TUCNA) condemning the BoN for its recommendation. I use examples from the Namibian mainly because it is the leading newspaper in the country and I deem it fitting for qualifying my commentary.
This brought to memory input made by a participant during a discussion an ‘Access to Information in Namibia’ last month. This participant shared experiences where certain media houses will cover events with a specific focus but when the news is aired or published, it is a far cry from what actually happened. The same goes for interview that end up reading different in newspapers and public office bearers especially often critique the media in this regard. From experience I can confidently say that the power of the media is fundamentally saturated in its role as an agenda setter and secondary as a watchdog.
Whilst these are important roles in relation to keeping the citizenry informed as well as holding our leaders accountable. It is important to also note that there is room for disdain towards media ethics and principles in favour of sensationalism. Namibia is lauded globally for its press freedom and has over the past 28 years enjoyed good press freedom ratings in comparison to other countries on the continent and the world. So, we simply put cannot afford to drop the ball whatsoever.
The lines between holding the media accountable and censorship are often blurred and as such lack of accountability in the media ends up being a case of too much power and influence.
And as the saying by 19th Century British Politician, Lord Acton goes; absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Hence as media practitioners, it is our prerogative to uphold media ethics because just like a Doctor loses his/her licence due to malpractice, we should emulate similar convictions as we are in the business of supplying information. With the invention of the internet and growth in social media, we are witnessing the shape-shifting evolution of the media at an accelerated pace like never before. The fact that information technology has become so advanced to the point that voting patterns of electorates can be influenced through data manipulation as exemplified by the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica case which shows that there is a need to ask who watches the watchdog and how.
I echo the words of Ellen Goodman, American Journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, who opined that “in journalism, there has always been the tension between getting it first and getting it right”. Hence the call for ethical reporting has never been greater and as a media studies graduate myself I urge us-the media- to adhere to the five principles of journalism by striving to be truthful and accurate, independent, fair and impartial, humane and accountable always. And for the public to call us out when we go rogue.