• June 3rd, 2020

Who watches the watchdog?

The Windhoek Observer of Friday 05 October 2018 carried a front page report on the estate of revered struggle icon the Late Andimba Ya Toivo. The gist of the article was the distribution of the Late Veterans assets but took a rather awkward twist towards the end in mentioning that “politically connected individuals have managed to amass fortunes based on political patronage at the expense of ordinary Namibians”.

The suggestive commentary is cushioned by a statement that ‘there is no direct evidence that this applies to Ya Toivo”.
The code of ethics for Namibian media pronounces itself on the need for fairness and accuracy in reporting on matters it considers as being in the public interest. It also takes heed to the idea that “The pursuit of news is not a license to arrogance”. The issue of fairness is thus subject to interpretation but in matters of good taste the journalist who reported on the estate of Ya Toivo is found lacking for using innuendos to escape liability and defect accountability.

Pandering is the act of expressing one’s views in accordance with the likes of a group to which one is attempting to appeal and can take on many forms in its attempts to sustain a narrative that fits the agenda of the media house or its owners. In line with the principles of a free and independent media as envisaged in the country’s constitution and the Codes of Ethics for the Namibian Media the Editor’s Forum of Namibia found itself on the right side of history when it condemned the Informante newspaper for publishing disturbing pictures of a suspect in a murder case hanging from a rope in a garage after committing suicide.

However, does admitting wrongdoing and issuing an apology grant closure to those harmed by the behavior of journalists and by extension the media houses they represent.

The Namibian newspaper hosts an interactive platform through its SMS column that allows readers to express their views on issues of concern. The newspaper expressly calls on members of the public to exercise good judgment when sending their comments to the paper. This platform is however subject to abuse as some of the SMS’s published border on malice and defamation. At times unsubstantiated accusations from people who seek to draw public sympathy are published without the information being verified. This often happens in SMS’s addressed to the President. There is a need for broader censorship when choosing which SMS’s to publish that should take into account the virtues of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, accountability and the right of reply.

Effective self-regulation is said to be the best system for promoting high standards in the media and it is informed that captains of industry especially those in leadership positions at State Owned Entreprises, namely, CEO’s, M.D.’s and Board Members are the victims of bias, sensationalism and magnified scrutiny at the hands of the media.

When contrasted with reports on the private sector which are usually fact based reports on events such as the commissioning of a new building at this cost that took place at such place on such date the inverse does not apply when reporting on SOE’s where the story line will be stretched and take on a speculative nature concentrating on who was awarded the tender, who is the contractor. Who is the contractor related to and what the link is. When speculation is peddled to satisfy a narrative of corruption within State Owned Enterprises it casts a dark shadow on those who are actually trying to do a decent job in carrying out their mandate and fiduciary duties as custodians of these enterprises.
The role of media as watchdog cannot be understated, neither should it be abused.

Insinuations of instances of corruption erode future prospects and career progress for M.D.’s and CEO’s alike once their five year contracts come to an end. The instant an M.D. applies for a positions at an international body such as the Commonwealth Secretariat or the African Development Bank one of the first frames of reference to establish the character of the prospective recruit is research on internet platforms such as goggle. When allegations of corruption and underhand dealings come to light it prejudices an applicant. Given that Namibia is a tight knit community these individuals suffer stigma and victimization within society which affects their families and general well-being.

Of course there are people in positions of power who are or may act corruptly. But there are also those who do not. By keeping with the ethos of good journalistic practices it is prudent upon journalists to constantly adhere to the required standards of truthfulness, accuracy, harm-limitation, self-regulation and self- criticism.

* Vitalio Angula is a socio-political commentator and is currently participating in the course “Civil Society and African media Policy in the Digital Age” with the University of Witwatersrand offered on the Wits X edX platform.

New Era Reporter
2018-11-16 09:53:15 | 1 years ago

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