As Namibia celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration and the subsequent establishment of World Press Freedom Day, local media practitioners say journalists are overstretched.
During the biggest celebration of Namibia’s media sector in the last 30 years, journalists in its biggest newsroom, the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), are on strike over wages and better working conditions.
The media practitioners agree that newsrooms in Namibia are facing unprecedented challenges – declining circulation, declining advertising revenue and increasing printing and distribution costs. Financial pressure has resulted in retrenchments, and the increased use of interns and freelance journalists.
At last week’s Namibia Media Awards where The Namibian newspaper made a clean sweep of the awards, it was noticeable that all but one of the awards won by the paper’s journalists are freelancers.
Mathias Haufiku, one of the award winners as a freelancer for The Namibian, who now works as the news editor of Namibian Sun, said: “the reliance on freelancers is not sustainable for the foreseeable future for our industry. It is a basic principle that you cannot outsource your core business. The interest of the freelancer is divided into the many moneymaking activities they are engaged with. Why should I dig into a story properly if I can get a quick job to edit an annual report of a state-owned company, where I get paid handsomely?”
Mud-bathing in poverty
Limba Mupetami, a sports reporter for the Namibia Media Holdings’ stable, said: “journalists have taken up more work than before as dynamics are changing. Some, like myself, transitioned to broadcasting on top of print media. I think this is entirely because of the change in dynamics, and the way people consume news. It’s allowing us to acquire new skills. This, however, doesn’t mean that the salary has changed. We write about impoverished people - while we are mud-bathing in poverty ourselves.”
Inevitably, low pay and difficult working conditions will lead to an exodus.
“In terms of depth and experience, there’s a huge vacuum because a lot of our colleagues have moved into the corporate space where remuneration is far better. Passion doesn’t pay the bills,” Haufiku added.
He said nowadays, entrants into the industry are just thrown into the deep end as senior staff are overworked and overwhelmed.
“They don’t have time to give attention to the young ones who come in.”
He also said there was a need for owners to invest in staff.
Daniel Nadunya, a reporter for the NBC, agreed, saying many leave their careers because of the poor conditions of employment.
“Low pay, contract employment, job insecurity, weak unions and a lack of organisational skills in the newsrooms increase the vulnerability of journalists seeking to speak ‘truth to power’,” he said.
“Getting paid peanuts” also creates fertile ground for journalists to be corrupted.
Willie Olivier, the founding editor of Namibian Sun, who is also a trainer and author, said the dissemination and consumption of news via social media platforms has resulted in more emphasis being placed on live broadcasts and programmes offered on platforms such as Facebook.
“This has placed an intolerable burden on the remaining staff, with the inevitable result of risking poor quality reporting. As elsewhere in the world, the main challenge remains to monetise social media offerings,” he added.
Da’oud Vries, a veteran journalist who now works as the acting editor for radio news at NBC, said: “newsrooms also operate with skeleton staff, and in many instances with reporters just out of university. There are not enough experienced journalists to guide and mentor the juniors, which has its own drawbacks in terms of building a well-grounded newsroom.”
Haufiku, who said he is optimistic about journalism in Namibia, highlighted the “bond of unity among media practitioners” that resulted in the establishment of the Namibia Media Professionals Union (NAMPU).
He also expressed concern over the lack of female representation in the upper echelons of newsroom hierarchies.
“We need to focus on women’s empowerment and create newsrooms that are friendly and support the growth of women in the industry,” he said, adding that men dominate the biggest newsrooms.
Media lecturer at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), Wanja Njuguna said: “the fact that many of our graduates nowadays end up elsewhere other than media houses means there is a disconnect somewhere. If students can’t intern in media houses, you don’t expect them to become good journos.”
She thus took issue with a lack of opportunities for internships for media students, and how media houses treat those lucky enough to get in.
“Besides not getting opportunities, not having money to go to places is real. The idea of media houses saying they can’t give them even a bare N$24 for transport is sad. Many come from poor backgrounds,” she observed.
Njuguna urged more women to cover investigative stories and follow them through.
“Train them, guide them and protect them to be able to do what male reporters are capable of doing. Let female sources not be only when stories are negative.”
Mupetami also agreed that most newsroom staff are overworked and not mentored well.
“Most newsrooms don’t offer skills training or bursaries for their workers to study.”
Haufiku lists introspection and self-criticism as a must for newsrooms, and said “we need to look at our business, distribution and human resource management models”.
Nadunya said despite a lack of resources, threats to their safety, especially job security and unpredictable editors, journalists in Namibia are spirited and show energetic commitment to their work in exposing abuses of power.
“What is needed is capacity building and more resources,” he stated.
Haufiku added that the livelihoods of media practitioners are important.
“Quality journalism is expensive. Are we willing to pay that price?” he asked rhetorically.
Njuguna said journalism is critical.
“Can people imagine not reading or listening to what’s happening in the country? Without journalism, even politicians would not be able to sell their ideas and programmes.
“Good remuneration packages will reduce the exodus of journalists to other industries.”