Namibia: Fix NBC, Remove Politicians

13 September 2019

ALL NEWS MEDIA are in all sorts of trouble. Namibians should be worried.

The independent and private media in Namibia have really only started to experience crushing financial crises over the past three years. But state-owned news organisations experienced perennial financial woes even as the economy was booming, and they were blessed with taxpayer funds.

Now that the blesser can't easily rob taxpayers to take care of parastatals, state-owned enterprises like the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) are forced to drastically cut costs.

On Wednesday morning, NBC reminded us of the SWABC and the NBC in the first five years of Namibia's independence: "end of transmission", or "transmission will resume at 07h00".

No one can say we didn't see it coming. For years, the NBC failed to pay VAT and employees' tax deductions over to the Ministry of Finance like all organisations are required to do; while employees' medical aid funds, social security contributions, and service provider bills went unpaid.

Government bailouts flowed to the NBC, as it did to other state-owned media, New Era, Nampa and the Nam-Zim propaganda paper, The Southern Times.

News media are too important to fail. Crucially, editorially independent media is a prerequisite for any society to flourish.

The flow of accurate information is a prerequisite for individuals' confidence in taking decisions to taking care of their own affairs. Information is the bedrock of self-empowerment. Nearly everything else flows from that.

In Namibia, the state broadcaster is even more important because taxpayers' money has proved to be the only source capable of funding the collection and distribution of news and other current affairs' information to reach nearly all in our vast but sparsely populated country.

But if tax funds are going to be used prudently and effectively to provide much-needed information, then the operational model of the NBC must be drastically revamped to serve the general populace.

For decades, the NBC has served politicians and the government of the day, rather than the broader population.

If only to get money, the NBC has chosen the right time to appeal (less than three months before elections) for N$300 million from the government. Highlighting that elections coverage will be curtailed and that live streaming of parliament will cease, will make politicians jump to a quick rescue.

However, the NBC's board and management will commit a grave error by appealing to vainglorious politicians for a rescue instead of demanding fundamental changes, foremost editorial autonomy from politicians. One major reason the NBC suffers a constant cash crunch and financial mismanagement is that it is actually run by and to please politicians.

Vanity makes politicians want to be seen all the time by the voting masses. So much so that some will not provide information unless NBC television is present, even while knowing radio reaches more people and faster. They won't even care about the internet, which has the potential to overtake TV.

It may not be far-fetched to argue that the NBC has been crippled by politicians. Nearly all events by presidents are transmitted in real time. Even the dead wood want "live coverage". Funerals of "comrades", trade fairs and other funfairs are studiously beamed over the airwaves.

The Namibian reported in 2012 that live coverage of our independence anniversary cost N$400 000.

Namibia needs a public broadcaster that reports on matters affecting the most vulnerable in the most detailed and interesting way. Such messages should then be transmitted to politicians, bureaucrats, other national leaders and the rest of the populace.

Politicians should be the ones watching and listening; they were elected to manage the country and fix problems, not to be the ones followed around and admired by the masses. Remove politicians from setting the agenda of our national broadcaster, and we would have solved 80% of a never-ending crisis at the NBC.

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