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Opinion - Access to Info Bill not yet a priority for journalists

2021-10-08  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Access to Info Bill not yet a priority for journalists
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In June 2020, the Namibian Access to Information Bill was tabled before the National Assembly by information minister, Hon. Peya Mushelenga, and is under consultation. The Bill is aimed at providing for citizens’ right of access to information held by public and private entities, and facilitating transparency, accountability and good governance.

Access to Information (ATI) is regarded as a crucial ingredient for a society that upholds democracy and good governance. Like other democracies, Namibia is nudged towards adopting a legal and policy framework that guarantees ATI as a fundamental human right.

Although the Namibian constitution does not unequivocally guarantee the right to access to information, Article 21(1)(a) guarantees “freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media”.

Similarly, Article 21 (2) offers reasonable restriction on freedom of expression in Namibia on the exercise of such rights and freedoms, which rights can also be limited if this should be required in the interests of national security.

 

Legislations that need to repeal

The Defence Act, 1990 (Act 20 of 1990) Section 54(1) of this Act prohibits any person from publishing (including in a newspaper or on radio or television) any information likely to engender national security of the safety of any member of the defence force except where the minister responsible for national defence has authorised the publication thereof or furnished the information. Additionally, Sections 3 and 4 of the Protection of Information Act of 1982 prohibits obtaining and disclosing state information relating to, or obtained from a “prohibited place”, regarding national defence, the military, or the prevention or combating of terrorism. 

Furthermore, Section 82 (1) of the Correctional Service Act, 2012 (Act No.09 of 2012) makes it an offence for anyone (including media practitioners) to, without the written permission of the commissioner general of Correctional Services to: take a photograph or make a film, video, sketch or drawing of a prison; publish a photograph, film, video, sketch or drawing of a prison etc. Similarly, the Namibia Central Intelligence Service Act, 1997 (Act No. 10 of 1997) states, “national security, intelligence, intelligence collection methods, sources of information and the identity of staff are protected from unauthorised disclosure”.

Likewise, as per section 89, (11) of the Electoral Act, 2014 (Act No. 5 of 2014), only “specified officials” are allowed in polling stations-journalists and any other media workers are strictly prohibited from entering election polling stations. This is totally irrelevant and unnecessary in a constitutional democracy. 

 

The ways forward:

 Based on the above mentioned legislations giving reasonable restriction to freedom of expression in Namibia; Access to Information Bill is, therefore, not yet a priority for Namibian media practitioners. For it to be a priority in an independent, democratic and constitutional dispensation, the Access to Information Bill should first repeal all the above mentioned Statutory Acts hindering freedom of expression and that of the press. 

Thus, blanket confidentiality of Cabinet proceedings, judicial functions and the nomination, selection and appointment of judicial officers may still be hidden from the public as we witnessed it during the appointment of the new ombudsman of Namibia. Therefore, the proposed exemptions defeat the purpose of access to information in the public interest and open justice. 

Restrictions and exemptions to access to information will still be used by the government to gag and deny investigative journalists access to state information, on grounds of “national security” provided that, old legislation such the Defence, Central Intelligence, and correctional services remain in force, and there is no indication yet that things may change for good.

The notion of democratic accountability espouses the idea that elected leaders are answerable to the citizens of a state in the execution of their periodic mandate. All public officers who serve under the elected leaders, including intelligence and security officers are also answerable to the people and execute their mandate for the benefit of the citizens of a state. Therefore, all their conduct including their work related emails shall be subjected to public scrutiny. 

To sum up, the safety of journalists is essential to protecting all citizens’ right to reliable information during unconstitutional changes to government, and Namibian journalists’ right to provide this information without fearing for their safety should be the order of the day.

 

 


2021-10-08  Staff Reporter

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