Namibian journalists said although the country has retained its position as the country with the freest media in Africa, it needs to enact the access to information law.
Several journalists who spoke to New Era applauded the country for ensuring the safety of journalists and their free working environment, the self-regulatory mechanism that most local journalists and media houses subscribe to and the fact that no journalist is in jail, and no journalist has been killed or tortured while performing their duties.
The secretary general of the recently established Namibia Media Professional Union (NAMPU), Sakeus Iikela emphasised access to information is important for development. Minister of information, Peya Mushelenga in June 2020 tabled the much-anticipated Access to Information Bill, which is envisaged to give citizens greater access to information. Proponents of the access to information law have long been pressurising the government to promulgate the legislation, which is key to an open democracy.
The Bill aims to promote transparency, accountability and effective governance of all public and private bodies, by establishing procedures to do so and also to enable requesters of information to obtain records held by state institutions and by private bodies as expeditiously and reasonably possible.
However, access to information activists took issue with the Bill, saying exemption for Cabinet, judicial officers and certain public institutions should be removed, among others.
“The law is regarded as a crucial ingredient for a society to uphold democracy and good governance. The enactment of the law will enhance transparency which will, in turn, promote public trust in the government’s programmes if implemented properly,” said Iikela.
Namibia Press Agency (Nampa) journalist Edward Mumbuu commented that although Namibia is doing well on Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index as the country with the freest media in Africa, access to information legislation, which is yet to be enacted, continues to be a major stumbling block in holding the powerful and influential to account.
“It remains my hope that the process of enforcing this legislation, of course, through broad consultation, is expedited. It is long overdue,” he said.
“Journalists, especially at state-owned media institutions continue to operate under difficult circumstances as they are continuously under duress to please the powers that be and are in most cases prevented from being critical of the government or individuals from the governing party.”
Namibian Broadcasting Cooperation (NBC) journalist Blanche Goreses said although she is satisfied with the freedom Namibian journalists have, there is always room for improvement.
“We are still waiting for the Access to Information Act and we have been patient. However, we cannot be patient forever with so much that is happening in the world right now such as Covid-19, corruption, gender-based violence (GBV) and a global economic crisis. We cannot afford to struggle to access information on such critical matters,” said Goreses.
She is concerned that there are still incidences of law enforcement agencies, not understanding journalists’ work.
Charmaine Ngatjiheue, a journalist at The Namibian newspaper said over the years, the government improved on making information available to journalists.
“However, there are still cracks in the sense that government makes information available to state media earlier than it is offered to private media houses. This, in turn, leads to unfair competition,” she stated.
She further explained that access to information is not just for journalists alone but for the public as well.
“Access to information is needed to debunk fake news, misinformation and disinformation. Once the Bill is promulgated, it would mean Namibia would remain the hope for all African countries,” she said. Ngatjiheue said in terms of legislation, press freedom is protected by the constitution, and President Hage Geingob has shown his commitment to ensuring press freedom. However, the government needs to fast track the Access to Information Bill.
Daniel Nadunya, a reporter at NBC said there have been feet dragging on the access to information and whistle-blower bills. The country has made some strides but leaving room for improvement. The political will to push these pieces of legislation through will be a great effort.
He added access is the cornerstone of breaking news and the oxygen that sustains the life of investigative journalism. It is the building block to a robust burgeoning democracy.