The widely reported comments in support of the Access to Information Bill as a mechanism to create yet another body to exert control over the media, were apparently a part of a speech made by the Minister of Information, Communication and Technology ,Tjekero Tweya, at the recent Gender and Media Summit Awards Ceremony.
If the reports are accurate, the comments made by the minister present a concern.
Reports suggest that Tweya said that the Access to Information Bill (which is supposed to mandate citizen access to information from public institutions or private institutions using public funds) will create a regulatory body that would somehow discipline or control (or silence?) journalists and media houses that report ‘irresponsibly.’
There was no report on who defines what is ‘irresponsible’ and what is not.
Does this mean that the minister has never heard of the Media Ombudsman, the Editors’ Forum of Namibia or the Namibian Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa?
We recommend that Adv. Clement Daniels (the Media Ombudsman), members of the Editors’ Forum and Natasha Tibinyane of MISA-Namibia make appointments with the minister to immediately introduce themselves and explain their roles.
What still needs to be clarified is whether Tweya’s utterances reflect the point of view of the entire government.
He is quoted as saying that his ministry will “…drive the agenda that a statutory body be created to ensure that the media is held responsible if they abuse their power and make themselves guilty of defamation and slander…and get away with murder.”
Perhaps representatives of the High Court should introduce themselves too and give a workshop on the existing laws in Namibia to exactly handle provable cases of defamation and slander.
Namibia is proudly ranked as one of the best countries in the world for media freedom. Is it truly the desire of the ICT Minister to ‘fix’ what isn’t broken and threaten Namibia’s international free media reputation in this regard?
Journalists struggle to get comments from subjects of news stories. Information from government offices is often out of date and those at the desk level and working with the public and media representatives are uninformed or untrained about what information can or cannot be given out.
So many decision-makers make loud proclamations about their ‘doors are always open’ and hand out their cell phone numbers like mints at a conference and yet, when requests for information are made, those doors quickly close and that cell phone number goes immediately to voice mail.
Right now, appointments with newsmakers are cancelled or postponed on a regular basis. Many decision-makers keep a distance from reporters until, of course, they have something they want disseminated to the public and then suddenly, the media becomes their ‘partner’ or honoured invitee.
We have long seen that there seems to be a rather naïve attitude in Namibia where people think that the media’s role is to only cover what they want to be covered. If we report what someone likes, then we are ‘good’, if we tell stories people have tried to hide, then we are ‘bad.’
Whether the story is factual or not seems to be a secondary consideration. It seems that we are ‘getting away with murder’ by reporting things that those in authority decide that they don’t want covered.
Free speech should never be hindered. At the same time, responsibility for what is said or written must still apply; remedies for redress of media transgressions (real or imagined) are free to be exercised by all.
Let us ease up on the rhetoric hinting at curtailing press freedom and work together for better access to non-national security related information, and exercise more tolerance all around.