23 April 2019

Namibia: Govt Assures Commitment to Press Freedom

Windhoek — Minister of Information and Communication Technology Stanley Simataa yesterday reaffirmed the government's "unwavering" commitment to press freedom and the expression of free speech.

According to the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Namibia has restored its position as Africa's best in press freedom by moving to the first position on the continent. Namibia had lost the top position to Ghana last year. Namibia is now ranked 23 out of a global ranking of 180 countries. Speaking to New Era, Simataa said,

"Yes we reclaimed our number one spot,we are very happy, but like the President said, it is not only an obligation of government to create that environment were press freedom will prevail but also is upon all the key role players including you colleagues who operate in that space to ensure that we continued or improved further."

"We are also happy that we cross our way back to number 23 in the world, having gone down by 26 last year, but our intention is to be in the top 20 in the whole world and indeed continue to work our way in the top 10, but this will require all of us," he said.

"We will continue to work hard not to go back again," Simataa said.

Addressing the nation on Wednesday last week, a day before the 2019 World Press Freedom Index report was released, President Hage Geingob also reaffirmed commitment, recognising access to information as a critical enabler of the electorate in holding elected leaders accountable.

"State House is open to the media, even media houses are tired of going to State House, they are sending junior reporters, very junior," said the President on the frequency of press briefings at State House. Geingob is more accessible by the press than some of his appointees who seem antagonistic towards the media.

In a statement on Thursday, Presidential Press Secretary Dr Alfredo Hengari said Geingob has in the past said that the media plays a key role in shining light on processes, systems and institutions in a democracy, and should view itself as an "integral component of our governance architecture".

"As long as our electorate put us here, our government will guarantee freedom of the fourth estate, which plays a constructive role in the Namibian House," Hengari quoted Geingob as having said.

Meanwhile, despite being ranked as Africa's number one, Reporters Without Borders said Namibia still has issues to iron out.

The press watchdog said Namibia's constitution guarantees free speech and protects journalists, "but the lack of a freedom of information law continues to obstruct their work.

But Geingob during the Sona address promised lawmakers that the Access to Information Bill will be tabled in Parliament this year.

"Pro-government media are meanwhile getting an ever larger chunk of the revenue available from advertising, which is threatening the financial prospects of the privately-owned media and independent news coverage," the watchdog claims on its website.

According to the website, those who dare to criticise the authorities are often the target of government threats or insults.

"They find refuge on the internet, where they are less subject to control. In 2018, the Namibia Central Intelligence Service (NCIS) accused a newspaper of endangering "national security" by covering the acquisition of properties by former NCIS members, but the courts ruled in favour of the newspaper," it reads.

"The NCIS case was based on laws dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, imposing major restrictions on the dissemination of information concerning national security."

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