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Thursday 23 May 2019
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The role of media in elections and democracy

“Journalism and Election in Times of Disinformation” is the theme for the 3 May 2019 World Press Freedom Day celebrations that are scheduled to take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Namibia will be holding its 7th Presidential and National Assembly elections later this year and  the print media news space is bound to become the battleground of ideas, with political parties and their candidates clamoring to make the pages of newspapers in order to drive their personalities and political programs into the media landscape through informed readership.
In what remains the last bastion of credible news source alongside radio and television which are protected and governed by constitutional provisions (freedom of the press), regulation and policy (media ombudsman code of ethics and conduct) and associations (Editors Forum of Namibia); unlike their distant cousin ‘social media’ which is a free for all for both stupid and wise and cannot be taken seriously as a credible source for news and information.
McHenry Venaani, leader of the official opposition PDM has solidified his position as the leading contender with a first mover competitive advantage over other party candidates by courting the print media space through published writing.
A recent article titled “Female households the backbone of Namibia” is pandering at its worse but nonetheless managed to drive Venaani’s appeal to female voters as an aspiring candidate with a genuine interest in the cause for women empowerment.
The state owned newspaper New Era has successfully managed to broaden Venaani’s reach through their online media platform which was viewed 2259 times as of the 15 March 2019 and liked 445 times.
The said article was shared on social media platform Facebook where it reached wider circulation and reinforced Venaani and his party PDM’s image as a driver of discourse on women’s issues and lead discussant where the responses were overwhelmingly positive in his favour with many women suggesting that his youthful and clean cut appeal make him a more favourable candidate than the ruling party President Hage Geingob.
The recent Supreme Court victory of ‘The Patriot Newspaper’ against the National Central Intelligence Service brings to the centre of public discourse a debate regarding the delayed Access to Information Bill as an anti-thesis of the Protection of Information Act 84 of 1982 and whether there is sufficient space for the envisaged legislation to co-exist with the draconian and outdated legislation that places the spy agency above scrutiny without it being accountable to its chief funders, the taxpaying electorate.
Media as the fourth estate has a responsibility in ensuring the spy agency does not become an institution for money-laundering but when comments such as ‘You may have won the battle but you will not win the war” are attributed to Namibia’s Chief Spy, it is enough to send shivers down the spine of journalists, editors and publishers who are harassed, attacked and treated with hostility by those who feel threatened by the noble professions pursuit of the uncensored truth which may not always be convenient and safe to know.
The print media is constantly under justified attack for creating perceptual biases in the minds of readers through the creation of echo chambers that only afford space to the most agreeable characters within the political and social space.
Whilst shutting out those with alternate and ideologically opposing viewpoints.
Political bias is so obvious in the Namibia’s print media landscape that one can predict what one is going to read by simply reading the by-line (heading) in the newspaper.
This is compounded by the fact that all print media houses seem to be driving an agenda as opposed to informing their readership on what is happening in society.
Trust in the media is perceived to be at an all-time low due to allegations of peddling fake news, disinformation and misinformation; however the media still has considerable power in the political process and altering the outcome of elections.
Not at national level as one can predict with absolute certainty that the ruling party will retain its two-thirds majority or might even grow it, but at the individual level of candidates who will be competing at their party’s various conferences and conventions for National Assembly seats in the Parliament and National Council.
There has been a gradual seismic shift from straight news to context and analysis for those who want to be informed at a deeper level of understanding to make educated decisions and it is a journalist’s job to give it to them.
But the reporter journalist is limited to the facts of the story whereas the opinion space is open for wider discourse and framing of subject matter.
It is these spaces that Venaani has successfully penetrated thanks to New Era and it is this space through which aspiring candidates can communicate to the electorate their political programs and why the electorate should vote for them.
The role of media in elections and democracy is that of informing the voters and citizenry alike of whom is the best amongst them to be accorded the honour and privilege to serve in the best interest of the state, by the state and for the state in a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
This is the role that media should be playing in elections and democracy.

Vitalio Angula is a socio-political commentator and independent columnist




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