• August 13th, 2020

An attack on Vitalio Angula is an attack on freedom of speech

Åsa Sandlund

On the 28 November 2019, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) carried a news report titled: “Concern about verbal attacks on journalists during Namibian election campaign”. 

The news report focused on the decision of the Namibia Press Agency (Nampa) to cancel freelance journalist Vita Angula’s contract after he participated in a televised discussion on corruption. 
The discussion dealt with the infamous “Fishrot” scandal, arguably one of the greatest scandals ever to hit Namibia.  

There are a number of issues with this chain of events. 
At the very least, the termination of an employment contract due to active participation in a panel discussion on political issues flies in the face of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 
It declares that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression” which includes the “freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media”.

It would not be in the interest of Namibia’s young democracy that Angula not challenge the unlawful and arguably unfair termination of his employment contract, and it would surprise me to see him take it lying down. By not contesting this termination, one might even argue that he would be encouraging Nampa to continue engaging in the infringement of the fundamental freedoms of its employees as enshrined in Article 21 of the Namibian Constitution, which among others deals with freedom of speech and expression - including freedom of the press and media. Beyond the seemingly obvious legal issues surrounding Nampa’s treatment of Angula, the agency should be aware of the reputational damage they have done to themselves given the international media coverage this scandal has attracted. Quite ironic given the concern Nampa expressed when terminating Angula’s contract that he, by participating in this public discussion, could potentially harm the reputation of the agency. 

The action of ousting Angula rather exposes the agency to scrutiny in regard to where their allegiances lie, and who may be allowed to control the flow of information through the agency – and why. Free and independent press indeed.

By participating in the show and touching upon the subject of corruption, one can surmise that Angula was acting in the interest of the public, something that falls in line with Nampa’s editorial guide, which mandates its journalists to act in the public interest including “exposing the misuse of public funds or other forms of corruption by public bodies and exposing hypocritical behavior by those in high office.”
 Had Angula been speaking on behalf of Nampa on the show, it could therefore be argued that in line with this guide, Angula was taking his responsibilities seriously and promoting the agency’s own ethical guidelines.

However, this was not the case, and I do believe this is one of the most important issues here; Angula was in fact not speaking on behalf of Nampa, but rather in the capacity of a private citizen. 
Not only is there the issue of Nampa attempting to put a gag on one of its journalists merely commenting on a recent political development; they are in fact attempting to silence a private citizen from exercising his constitutional rights. 

Here we have an institution that should be at the forefront of advocating against the misuse of public resources but instead chose to victimize one of its employees for doing just that. How does this fit into a democratic state? 

Staff Reporter
2020-02-07 09:16:35 | 6 months ago

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