Namibia: Confusion As Presidency Shuts Out Media

Namibian President Hage Geingob presenting latest statement on COVID-19 restrictions.

THE NAMIBIAN public was left in a state of confusion about the government's next move on the coronavirus following the highest number of cases reported amid the Presidency shutting out mainstream media.

As Namibia reported 15 cases of people testing positive to Covid-19 over weekend, the highest at any time so far.

The Presidency yesterday appeared to freeze out the news media by posting a "public information alert" on social media before 3pm that president Hage Geingob will make a formal announcement about the pandemic at 2pm today.

The office of the president said the public should "follow the update live on the media channels of the Presidency".

Four hours later, only after mainstream journalists complained that they were being excluded, the Presidency sent out an invitation stating: "Interested journalists are advised to confirm their attendance with... the public is also advised to follow us on NBC TV and radio, the Presidency and NBC Facebook pages livestream."

The announcement on social media followed a weekend of rumours that the government might be taking drastic steps to reverse the lockdowns. Late yesterday the ministry of education said lower primary grades should no longer return to school until after president Geingob's announcement.

Confusion began on Friday as state broadcaster NBC abruptly removed a post stating that the president will have a press conference shortly.

The Presidency's late announcement yesterday excluded all media houses, including New Era and the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation.

Asked to explain why the mainstream media were being shut out, State House press secretary Alfredo Hengari accused The Namibian of telling "cheap lies" and the the newspaper should stop the practice of tarnishing Geingob's name.

Hengari earlier in the day referred The Namibian to his assistant Sharonice Busch to explain why the media was not invited. He further said The Namibian hates the fact that the country has been ranked as number one in terms of press freedom, responding to an online article published by The Namibian.

"You guys [The Namibian] like lying. You like lying. These are lies that you are telling. It is hypocritical journalism. You are telling lies saying that media organisations were not invited," he charged at The Namibian.

Media professionals have described this latest episode of a fraught relationship with the Presidency, as yet another indication of deliberate attempts to sideline independent journalism.

Speaking to The Namibian yesterday, Editor's Forum of Namibia secretary general Ronelle Rademeyer said the trend by the Presidency is worrisome, and one can see "hostility between the Presidency and media".

She said the EFN and Hengari had an informal meeting last week to discuss these challenges.

Rademeyer said in line with that, the EFN in collaboration with stakeholders developed a standard operating procedure (SOP), which will be distributed this week. She added that the draft has been made available to the Presidency and the information and communication ministry, in which the SOP outlines how the media should be addressed.

"It is really worrisome to see what is going on if you follow closely, the sort of rifts that are developing on the NamPresidency [WhatsApp] group. The issues going on between the Presidency and the Namibian media shows hostility, which is obviously not good for the media and the relationship with the Namibian Presidency," she said.

Rademeyer said although the president speaks on the importance of the media, he needs to demonstrate what he says and it cannot just 'lip service' when he speaks of press freedom.

Namibia Media Trust (NMT) executive chairperson Gwen Lister told The Namibian yesterday that it is unacceptable if private and independent media had not been invited to cover the president's update to the nation.

"Good reporters cannot be expected to be sycophants of either the government or the Presidency, simply to amplify statements without being given the opportunity to pose questions, and especially on a topic as critical to the nation as the Covid-19 pandemic," she said.

Seasoned journalist Brigitte Weidlich said Covid-19 is being used as an excuse to sideline the media. She said the Presidency is just paying lip service when preaching about media freedom.

"The Office of the President should do what the first two presidents did, which is handling the media professionally," she said.

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