22 March 2019

Namibia: The Media Cannot Be a Tool of Regurgitation

On Tuesday of this week the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) had consultations with political parties and whoever else regarding the vexed issue of having paper trail when using the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) of which Namibia is a pioneer in their use in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc).

One cannot but laud the ECN for this bold step early and well in advance. This is to provide certainty in one aspect of polling, if perhaps not the most important, which is paper trail.

"The brouhaha over use of smart EVMs in India's legislative elections has reached an ear-splitting pitch, leaving the 850 million constituents confused and confounded.

All set for the five-year general polls scheduled for 2019, India's Election Commission has time and again asseverated that the voter-friendly devices are tamper-proof and cannot be manipulated, but opposition parties have been demanding a ban on the high-tech gizmos and want the poll panel to return to the good old paper ballot system," reads an article by Mahesh Trivedi way back in 2017, with the headline: "Row over India's electronic voting machines leaves electors dazed".

This cannot be more than instructive for Namibia in view of the fact that the very EVMs she has been using have been made in India. Perhaps to vindicate the suspicion of especially the opposition parties about the EVMs, that their suspicion as unfounded as it may with no fault lines to date in their usage since their introduction in 2014, but nevertheless that their suspicion should and cannot be taken lightly. Especially in view of the fact subsequently there has been no occasion that the governing party has made use of the EVMs during its own internal elections.

But back to the meeting on Tuesday, it is not clear other than the political parties who else were invited to the said meeting.

But one thing for sure the media was not invited, and members of the media who got wind of the invitation to the political parties and turned up, were told to leave.

It is only in the wisdom of the ECN itself, and perhaps the political parties that the media should not have be a party to this important stakeholder engagement. But it is not hard for the media to understand because most of the time in Namibia the industry has been reduced to no more than just a conveyor belt and not to be party to crucial proceedings as this.

The media is only brought in at the last moment after has been said and done. In other words the media is only expectedly to regurgitate whatever it is fed with rather than being an active participant in key processes.

Such deliberate exclusion of the media from processes and decision-making, which in turn must be based on its perceived insensitivity, carelessness and irresponsibility, goes against the premise of the media as a Fourth Estate.

But can the media not equip itself to this task, granted this is what its task purely is, if informed fully, which can only happen if it becomes a firsthand witness, if not an equal stakeholder?

Ultimately, when everything has been said and done, the ECN and the political parties would expect to transmit what may have transpired in its absence to the broader public. In fact no one political party, let alone the ECN, could claim more representative, let alone more accessible to the broader public than the media. Not only this but the media can equally claim room to fame of being non-party partisan, thus embracing people of all political persuasions and convictions and colours. The media can claim to be the only rainbow entity in this country. Yet made an outsider where and when important decisions are made, such as the latest one between the ECN and political parties.

There's no way the issue at hand and others the ENC seems to be monopolizing and abrogating to self and the political parties, can be decided there and then. Eventually the public must not only participate, but somehow must have the final say how they want to vote. Is it only then that the ECN and the political parties would come running to the media?

The ECN surely must be aware that lately Namibia has been falling in her international rating as the leading upholder of media freedom on the continent, and even a shining example to some presumably developed nations. One reason for the fall in rating is lack of legislation guaranteeing freedom of information. Barring and/or not inviting the media as it did, and relegating it only being informed after fact, the ECN is doing nothing but abetting this undemocratic act of the denial of information. Choosing when and how the media can have information, as the ECN seems to be doing, surely cannot speak much of transparency and freedom of information. Surely, the political parties could not have been accomplices to this and must for sure have welcomed their views on the matter, which understandably they were in unison in doing away with EVMs without VVPAT.

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