Although the Windhoek Declaration stressed the need for an independent and pluralistic media, experts say it does not give the microphone to a wide enough diversity of voices.
Namibia will next month host the World Press Freedom Day, an event that was realised following the famous Windhoek Declaration in 1991, which paved the way for a pluralistic and independent media.
Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) journalism and media technology senior lecturer Hugh Ellis said Namibia’s media has, without doubt, made much progress but he highlighted several areas of concern.
“By and large, Namibia’s media is independent – but sadly, it is often not pluralistic. Successive gender and media progress studies have shown how the Namibian and indeed African media is often a men’s club. More efforts must be made to include women’s voices,” Ellis suggested.
Similarly, he said, journalists have not done enough to address the impact of race and ethnicity in their reporting.
“Are we challenging the racial stereotypes we grew up with? Do we really understand what we write about when we report another ‘culture’? Do we treat an accused German thief the same way as we treat a Damara one – and if not, why not? Do we more easily excuse a ‘racist’ or ‘tribalist’ act when it has been committed by ‘one of our own?” he questioned.
Ellis noted there has not been enough research done on this issue, saying both media and academy seem to shy away from tackling it.
He also added media sustainability is also of great concern, adding many journalists have lost their jobs due to the ‘triple whammy’ of Covid-19, economic recession and the digital revolution.
Several media houses have turned to publishing news on online platforms only, while some have closed down.
Ellis has suggested new economic models would be needed to sustain media in the coming decades.
On journalists’ safety, Ellis said there is no specific law on the safety of journalists and some related laws, such as the protection of whistleblowers under the Anti-Corruption Act, could be strengthened.
He also wants to see a comprehensive law on the protection of private data – not just for journalists and whistleblowers but also for the general public.
“I know of no case where a Namibian journalist has been physically attacked or threatened – and law enforcement has not followed up the case, which puts Namibia ahead of a lot of countries in the world,” he stated.
Ellis is of the opinion that government should work with professional bodies such as the Namibia Editors’ Forum to ensure quality journalism, rather than set up statutory authorities.
According to him, the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia may have a role to play in regulating the broadcast sector, bearing in mind that the radio frequency spectrum is a limited resource.
However, Ellis also supports a co-regulatory approach, working with professional bodies and journalists’ unions.
He also said a union representing the interests of journalists was vital to ensure quality journalism and also an essential step in improving journalists’ safety.
Veteran broadcaster Menesia Muinjo said Namibia has certainly been making strides when it comes to media legislative framework and the safety of journalists in addition to the quality of journalism in Namibia.
According to Muinjo, the fact that a relatively young Namibia took the lead to host the 1991 Windhoek Declaration speaks volumes about the country’s determination to ensure press freedom.
She said the draft legislation of access to information is another great stride, confirming the country’s continuous support efforts towards press freedom.
“Although isolated cases of concern about journalists’ treatment may have been reported, one has to appreciate the current setup, although an improved journalists’ working environment is welcome. No wonder Namibia continues to be the leader in press freedom. The parties to the press freedom in Namibia do guard that freeness jealously and speak out as soon as a potential violation is perceived to be rearing its ugly head,” Muinjo indicated.
Ellis, on the other hand, said he was satisfied that government has resisted the urge to over-regulate the media industry – and so far, it has not legislated ‘correct behaviour’ on the internet and social media either, despite calls from some politicians to do so. “Although moves toward an Access to Information Law have been slow, I am satisfied with the progress that has been made. I fear, however, that many politicians – both the ruling and opposition parties – came of age in a Soviet-style media system and have conceptual difficulty adjusting a more social-democratic media model,” Ellis said.
He opines access to information is required so citizens can make informed decisions about government policies.