The inevitable celebrations over Namibia’s ranking on Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index should be accompanied with some introspection.
The country was again confirmed as having the freest media in Africa on the index.
The World Press Freedom Index measures the level of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries measuring pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative environment, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses.
Namibia has been on top in Africa since 2019 and has always been ranked high on the continent.
Unfortunately, Namibia is ranked only 24 in the world. In the 2016 index Namibia was ranked as high as 17 in the world but has dropped down to 24, one position worse than last year.
While the country’s media continues to enjoy relative freedom to operate and journalists have done a sterling job under difficult circumstances, there is a lot that can be done to improve media freedom.
The index listed verbal attacks from the press secretary in the Presidency, the brief arrest of reporters, the warning given to a Namibia Press Agency reporter after asking the president a question, and media outlets being barred from governmental press conferences.
The Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in newsrooms with retrenchments and salary cuts widespread in 2020, forcing skilled and experienced journalists out the door.
Successive ministers of information have promised an effective access to information law. Incumbent Peya Mushelenga tabled the long-awaited legislation last June but activists expressed concern over certain sections of the Bill.
The Bill will hopefully thwart the culture of secrecy that has contributed to corruption thriving in various public institutions.
Media freedom is important because a free press disseminates information and ideas so the people can communicate with and hold their elected representatives at all levels accountable. A free press enables democracy as an informed electorate would choose the best representatives.
A free, pluralistic media provides a platform to criticise, protest, share ideas and offer solutions to the government as well as allow people to obtain information from a wide range of sources.
To be first in Africa is a significant achievement.
However, we equally need to aim high with the view to improve our world ranking.
According to RSF’s report on Africa, press freedom violations are now only too common.
“They include arbitrary censorship, especially on the internet (by means of ad hoc internet cuts), arrests of journalists on the grounds of combatting cybercrime, fake news or terrorism, and acts of violence against media personnel that usually go completely unpunished.
“Elections and protests are often accompanied by abuses against journalists. The financial weakness of many media outlets makes them susceptible to political and financial influence that undermines their independence.”
We should, instead, set our sights on Norway, Finland and Sweden who regularly occupy the top rankings in the world. Norway is this year’s top ranked country on the press freedom index.
Norway’s media regulates itself and 98% of the country’s citizens have access to the internet. The country also regularly features as a model of democracy.
Let us look up and work towards a truly free press.