On the one hand, it recognizes the right of the individual to be afforded protection against harm to his reputation. On the other hand, it also recognises that the public has a right to free speech and proper access to information.
Put in the context of newspaper reporting it is vitally important that it should not be stifled by restrictive defamation laws, but at the same time, the law cannot ignore the fact that newspapers and other broadcasting media are extremely powerful agencies that can reach enormous numbers of members of the public and that, if they publish defamatory material, the result can be devastating harm to reputation.
It should also be borne in mind that harm to reputation is insidious and once a reputation is damaged it is difficult to repair the damage.
There is much truth in the Shakespearean saying, “He who steals my purse steals trash; it is something, nothing; but he who filches my good name robs me of something which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.” ( sic)
The recent trend of such matters taken to court is welcomed especially if it produces precedent we can rely on, especially with matters emanating from WhatsApp groups, but even with that possibility the ordinary man won’t afford legal representation to such.
As it stands with no small claims court, and no assistance from the state-funded provision (largely because these cases do not see action beyond letters of demand), some people get away with peddling lies about others, sharing nude material of others, and creating a stigma about others especially in Katutura-like areas, and because of not affordability of legal representation, we just insult each other and wait for the sun to come up again.
Although we appreciate that freedom of speech is not freedom to slander, most victims are limited in seeking legal remedy in Namibia.
I hope that changes, so that ordinary women and men who are victims of propaganda, malicious posting, invasion of privacy, and exposure of confidential material, don’t only resort to slashing tyres and smashing windows, but can take it to court.