EDITORS and experts in the media sector yesterday said despite Namibia's good rankings on media freedom, more needs to be done to improve access to information for journalists and media practitioners.
They were commenting in light of the upcoming World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2019, which provides a platform for multiple actors to exchange information on current issues, threats and achievements concerning freedom of the press.
Just last week, Reporters Without Borders, through its Press Freedom Index, found that Namibia has the freest media in Africa, while globally, the country is ranked 23rd out of 180 countries.
President Hage Geingob, who welcomed this top ranking, made a commitment to ensure that the press remains free under his watch, and promised that the access to information law will be passed this year.
This law will push the government and its agencies to readily make available information that they would normally not give to members of the public, and it would also stop their frustrating tactics of holding onto information in the hope that journalists would drop the story.
However, experts in the media, while applauding the president's commitment, feel that more can be done in terms of access to information that will allow the sector to fully play their role as the fourth estate.
Media ombudsman John Nakuta described the absence of an access to information law as a "glaring shortcoming", while congratulating Namibia for having re-attained the top press freedom spot in Africa.
"We should not be complacent, as the position comes with responsibility," he added.
Confidénte editor Max Hamata said Namibia would mark a major milestone if the country could promulgate the Access to Information Act.
"The absence of such an act undermines the prevailing narrative of improved governance, transparency and accountability by the state", he noted.
Hamata said more transparency and accountability is urgently required to ensure efficient and effective service delivery at a time when corruption and the mismanagement of resources pose great threats to the state.
He said it is especially so "when we struggle to keep afloat fiscally with the meagre resources that we have".
Namibian Sun editor Festus Nakatana said he thinks many people, including those in the government, are aware of the importance and fundamental principles of press freedom.
However, the true role of journalists is often overlooked, and this in itself becomes a threat to this young democracy, he stated.
"Yes, we have a relatively open environment for press freedom and journalism, but challenges associated with a stronger right to seek and receive information remain in this country. We can do better," added Nakatana.
Joseph Ailonga, the Namibia Editors Forum chairperson, took a different approach, saying Namibia is doing enough to defend press freedom.
"Politicians are upholding that through policy, but more can still be done, like ensuring that access to information is guaranteed," he stressed.
Ailonga added that state-owned enterprises and government agencies should also be allowed to advertise in private media, and not withhold advertisements from the private media.
Reporters Without Borders explained in its ranking that although Namibia's Constitution guarantees free speech and protects journalists, the lack of an access to information law obstructs journalists in their work.
"Those who dare to criticise the authorities are often the targets of government threats or insults.
They find refuge on the internet, where they are less subject to control," read the report.