We were glad this week that President Hage Geingob elevated in his speech at the opening of Cabinet on Tuesday the importance of public information – especially that which is in the hands of ministers.
Our observation – which the President seems to share – is that public officials, including ministers, have maintained a clenched fist on even information that could help the public understand better the activities of government.
Against the backdrop of the President having declared 2019 as a year of accountability, it is nearly impossible to achieve this clarion call if ministers and their officials keep shouting “we don’t report to you [media]”.
Apart from the President’s declaration of accountability, Namibia has put pen on the dotted lines of many international and continental commitments on freedom of expression and the media – which are also guaranteed in the constitution of our country.
Frankly, these requirements have often been trampled upon willy-nilly and with immunity. No more, says Geingob!
True, government relations with the media are often adversarial and that is sometimes due to the anger with which public officials interact with journalists. Reciprocally, it is also fair to point out that the media hasn’t always dealt with government in acceptable ambits of respect and good courtesy.
But what our leaders often miss is the fact that the public draws a lion’s share of its information from the traditional mainstream media – and not ministerial pamphlets or WhatsApp messages.
Withholding such information is thus not a punishment against individual media houses but the electorate itself.
If a minister talks openly about trade agreements that government may have entered into, they are accounting to the very people that voted them into power.
Taking a defensive stance on a matter as crucial as this only raises further suspicion that government is up to something fishy.
To discourage the media from seeking answers, many government officials have developed a nasty habit of asking journalists to put their query in writing, to which no response is rendered in the end.
Sharing information, even unpleasant one, helps improve the public’s trust in government’s honesty and integrity. There is no single individual, even those of limited brainpower, who believes government is perfect and thus all news about its activities would be positive.
Namibians of good conscience, and we have no short supply of them, would appreciate openness more than pretentious antics that all is well in every government department.
President Geingob’s remarks of this week raise hope in the media fraternity. Our hope for better news coverage and keeping Namibia informed has gotten a big boost as a result.
Though working under extremely difficulties circumstances which include meager salaries, lack of transport, telephones and computers, journalists in general are committed to informing truthfully and objectively.
But when information comes in patches and through leaking – because those in charge of facts and truth are being economical, stories that lack correctness and balanced views end up being published.
This leads to misinformation and distrust of both the media and the authorities.
To expand on President’s Geingob’s advice, we urge stakeholders to not just expect the media to go to them to look for information. They should also make efforts to take vital information to the media.
New Era Reporter
2019-02-08 12:03:46 8 days ago