THE BIGGEST hurdle facing the operations of the Namibian media currently is access to information.
This was highlighted at the World Press Freedom Day commemoration held by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), in conjunction with its Namibian chapter in Windhoek yesterday.
"We are struggling with access to information in this country. A lot of public and private officials who when contacted by the media respond with 'no comment' should be disciplined because this is completely unacceptable. The integral part of running an organisation or any type of institution is to provide information to the public," said human rights lawyer Norman Tjombe.
Tjombe also highlighted the need for training of investigative journalists in Namibia and called upon media institutions to establish an institute to train such journalists. "There's need for continuous training of investigative journalists. There's also need for diversification in terms of reports in the media as there are currently not enough rural concerns being articulated in the media," he said.
He termed the behaviour of those members of parliament complaining about the State media being too critical of them as "a demonstration of their lack of understanding of what the role of the media is."
Meanwhile, MISA Regional Director Zoe Titus expressed the role of media in shaping public opinion, and ensuring that those who hold power do not abuse it in order to advance or promote their own individual interests.
"Democracy, we believe, is about empowering citizens so that they are able to actively take ownership of their own growth and development objectives. It is our strongest belief that information is power only when it can be productively used by the public and gives citizens the greatest opportunity to make decisions that enable them to question the sincerity and honesty of those who have been trusted with positions of power," she said.
She also voiced concern about the growing intolerance of media freedom and freedom of expression across southern Africa. "We are extremely worried that introduction of laws such as the Protection of State Information Bill in South Africa and the repeated failure to repeal or at least amend the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act in Zimbabwe will continue to result in citizens being denied their right and power to hold public officials accountable," she noted. Titus outlined that the airwaves too continue to be a contested terrain with ever-growing reluctance to open up to alternative voices and players. "Even more worrying is the political rhetoric that has accompanied discussions on the role of the Internet in publishing. "The Internet has been branded as a tool for regime change by, for example, the Zimbabwe government and therefore something to be seen in a negative light," she said.
In their joint message, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said that media freedom also faces severe pressures across the world. "Last year, UNESCO condemned the killing of 62 journalists who died as a result of their work. World Press Freedom Day is our opportunity to raise the flag in the fight to advance media freedom. At a time of information overload, we must help young people especially to develop critical skills and greater media literacy," reads the statement.
MISA Namibia also used the occasion to launch the18th edition of the annual publication 'So This Is Democracy'. The publication seeks to highlight the state of media freedom in Southern Africa. The 2011 Namibian national overview in the book was written by Johnathan Beukes, Supplements Editor of The Namibian.