The NBC strike is now in its second week as workers remain defiant in their demands for better pay and improved working conditions. Striking workers are demanding an 8% pay rise and an increase in transport, accommodation and medical aid allowances. They also want workers who have been on monthly contracts to be offered permanent positions. The resultant blackout caused by the imposed strike has unfortunately affected the masses, including those in remote areas, whose only source of information remains radio. For thousands of Namibians, radio remains an effective means of communication owing to its low cost and easier accessibility. Regional councillors and other community leaders also regularly make use of radio to make important announcements. As such, radio is still preferred by an overwhelming majority of people living in Namibia.
However, the past two weeks have been extremely depressing for those who rely on the NBC for death notices, announcements about the next pension payouts, the Covid-19 pandemic, and other crucial information and news often shared on radio. With computers and the Internet not yet readily accessible to rural communities, thousands of citizens depend on the national broadcaster for news and information. In its own right, the NBC has helped shaped public opinion, including using the power of mass communication to transform our society.
The challenge, however, is that as much as we sympathise with the striking workers, the situation on the ground does not make for good reading. While recently briefing a parliamentary standing committee on information and communication technology, NBC editor-in-chief Stanley Similo highlighted the precarious financial position in which the national broadcaster finds itself.
The NBC was given N$127.7 million during this financial year’s budget, which represents a 62% reduction, compared to the previous financial year’s allocation of N$334.1 million. According to Similo, the company a fortnight ago only managed to pay net salaries of employees, leaving out other benefits such as housing, pension, pay-as-you-earn and medical aid. He said to pay all the other contributions, the company will need at least N$11 million per month. This is a tall order, considering the corporation only makes about N$5 million every month from advertising, which is the core revenue stream. The widening rift between striking workers and management also does not help the situation. The question, however, remains: will cooler heads prevail this time around? Despite its troubled history, the NBC performs an important mandate, which chiefly strives to have an informed nation in order to help bridge the communication gap in society.
But this alone will not achieve long-term sustainability, given other competing priorities that government has to attend to. There is, therefore, a need to seriously consider a re-worked model, with a turnaround strategy, with the ultimate purpose of transforming into a remarkable broadcasting outfit that is financially sustainable and self-sufficient. This model may not be popular from a human resource point of view, but we don’t see another workable solution capable of alleviating the ongoing debt crisis, given the current corporate structure, coupled with the prevailing economic position.