The power of SA's bad example

The ruling party of Namibia, SWAPO, rounded on the state-owned media this week for a perceived lack of patriotism and failure to adhere to the SWAPO Manifesto. Senior ruling party officials - including Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, widely tipped to be in line for the presidency in the elections scheduled for 2014 - have lashed out at state-owned newspapers and the national broadcaster, NBC. Iivula-Ithana seems to have been particularly irked at the failure of the NBC to cover her visits to community courts across the northern region.

Delme Cupido's picture

Author

Senior Programme Officer: Indigenous Peoples Rights

April 19th, 2012

The ruling party of Namibia, SWAPO, rounded on the state-owned media this week for a perceived lack of patriotism and failure to adhere to the SWAPO Manifesto. Senior ruling party officials - including Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, widely tipped to be in line for the presidency in the elections scheduled for 2014 - have lashed out at state-owned newspapers and the national broadcaster, NBC. Iivula-Ithana seems to have been particularly irked at the failure of the NBC to cover her visits to community courts across the northern region. “It is not for the NBC to decide who to cover or who not,” she said.

The New Era newspaper, despite being a state-owned paper, has built a reputation for a fairly large degree of independence and critical reporting. Iivula-Ithana also made it plain that this is not what government intended when it launched the newspaper, saying: “Since we have Southern Times, why do we continue to fund New Era? Why can’t we abolish it?”

The Southern Times is jointly owned by the governments of Namibia and Zimbabwe and serves as a mouthpiece for the ruling parties of the two countries. It is also well nigh unreadable. But it is unreadably pro-SWAPO which is all that seems to matter to Iivula-Ithana.

And in case people think that this is just another localised case of ruling party politicians trying to turn state media into their own personal praise-singers, Namibia's politicians seem to have been emboldened to launch their latest anti-media rants by the controversial Protection of Information Bill that the ANC is about to force through parliament in South Africa. In the clearest sign yet that this bad legislation and policy is contagious, Uutoni Nujoma - the son and, in the eyes of many, presumptive heir to the country’s founding president, Sam Nujoma - suggested that Namibia should follow its neighbour's example and introduce legislation similar to the Protection of Information Bill - or what critics have dubbed the Secrecy Bill.

It has always been one of the fears about South Africa's Secrecy Bill that - apart from undermining basic rights at home - it would also foster copy-cat laws across the region, which is already renowned for its secrecy. And what makes it worse is that Namibia has up until now been a shining light in southern Africa in terms of press freedom. Namibia is ranked 20th out of 179 countries surveyed by Reporters Without Borders on its Press Freedom Index (the same as Belgium and higher than Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom). 

But that ranking must now be under severe pressure. Jerry Ekandjo, the Minister of Home Affairs and a ruling party hardliner, was even more outspoken in his desire to see the independent tendencies of state-owned news outlets reigned in - be the Namibian Press Agency, the NBC or poor old New Era. “We speak of democracy where the majority rules. SWAPO has more than 70 per cent of the vote. The NBC and New Era must understand that [Parliament] has the power to say it won’t support them. They cannot expect us to support [their budgetary allocation] when they stab Government in the back,” he said.

While some might write this off as just politial posturing, this latest outburst of intolerance for independent, and even not so independent media, should raise the alarm for everyone concerned with press freedom and open societies - and with the future of Namibia.

About the author(s)

Delme is the Indigenous Peoples Rights Senior Programme Officer. Delme was the APM in OSISA’s HIV programme from 2006-2010. Prior to joining OSISA, he was the Coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre, a public interest law centre based in Namibia. Delme was active in the international HIV Treatment Access movement, was a founding trustee of the AIDS Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, a founding member of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, the Pan African Treatment Access Movement and the Collaborative Fund for HIV. Delme holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Cape Town, and obtained a bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of the Western Cape.

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