The majority of media houses have condemned their exclusion from covering certain press conferences hosted by the government.
This outcry comes after the Presidency only invited the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), the Namibia Press Agency (Nampa) and One Africa Television to cover president Hage Geingob's Covid-19 update at State House yesterday.
The Presidency claimed at the last minute that attendance was limited to reduce the number of people at State House to avoid the risk of spreading Covid-19.
Media practitioners who spoke to The Namibian said dictating which media houses were to cover the briefing is not only discriminatory but may also be tantamount to censorship. The editor of The Namibian, Tangeni Amupadhi, said excluding key organisations, which perhaps make up more than half of Namibian news media, shows a reckless attitude towards access to information for the general public in a time of an unprecedented crisis. Amupadhi said excluding most of Namibia's traditional media only serves the fake news mill on social media. He added that in this digital technology age it should have been easy to set up an official or mandatory pool platform to feed all legitimate media houses at the same time.
"The latest decision by State House falls in the long-standing attempts to exclude independent and progressive news organisations. This falls in line with former information minister Tjekero Tweya's Cabinet-backed decision that only selected state media get preference for information and advertising.
"Government leaders might think they are punishing independent journalism, such as The Namibian, who they have been hostile to. But they are promoting a lockdown of information and aiding ignorance. Why not use the Editors' Forum of Namibia to coordinate such crucial information? How do you expect to counter fake news while excluding the traditional media?" Amupadhi said.
He stressed that it appears some people in government are willing to gamble with the lives of ordinary Namibians by not maximising access to information at a time when it is most needed.
"The commotion on the streets of Katutura last weekend was seemingly not proof enough that there are many citizens for whom information does not reach immediately," he said.
Namibia Media Trust executive chairperson Gwen Lister said the Presidency's ban of some media houses is unacceptable and such a move would be discriminatory and lacking in transparency.
"All media should (be allowed) there, with physical distancing enforced and given the opportunity to ask own questions and not via a presidential spokesperson," said Lister. Freelance journalist Mathias Haufiku said the Presidency's decision to unilaterally exclude some media houses from the briefing is a direct infringement on the rights of the press.
Haufiku said State House's dictating which media houses must attend briefings should be condemned.
"The use of Covid-19 to selectively invite media houses without consulting the entire media fraternity can be construed as a tactic to control information dissemination," he said.
He stressed that the media fraternity wants to meet the government halfway in the fight against misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic, but yesterday's decision to block the press from attending the proceedings is a slap in the face of all Namibians who depend on the press for accurate information.
Haufiku said yesterday's arrangement shows that the government sees NBC as the pinnacle of the Namibian media, forgetting that people prefer getting their news through different platforms. Haufiku said since president Geingob claims to be an avid defender of free press, he expressed hope that the president addresses this issue with his team.
"Covid-19 news must reach all corners of this country, hence the selectivity on who must cover such briefings must stop. Journalists, by extension, the public, missed out on a good opportunity to ask critical questions around the fight against Covid-19 and the stimulus package that was announced," he said.
Journalist, author and academic Wonder Guchu corroborated Haufiku's sentiments by calling on media practitioners to boycott State House events in future if such an arrangement happens again.
He said every media house would have preferred to attend the event to ask their own questions in real time instead of relying on the State House spokesperson to ask on their behalf.
Considering the number of people who attended the event on behalf of NBC, Guchu said State House should have made provision for every media house to be represented by one person at least.
He added that State House should do away with the notion that the broadcast media is the only way to disseminate information to the public, adding that all media houses reach the same people.
Guchu stressed that there was no need for State House to choose NBC and Nampa (state media) to cover the briefing because Nampa it is not a television station, but NBC and One Africa are.