Journalists in Namibia have hit out at employers and politicians for muzzling the media and in defence of “the right to ask difficult questions”.
The IFJ backed the calls by journalists in an open letter to media and the authorities to be able to work in the public interest, free from pressure or restraint.
Journalists from across Namibian media wrote to the authorities highlighting recent attacks on the right to report.
The letter states: “This stems from, among other things, the recent incident involving one of our colleagues, Edward Mumbuu, who had an encounter with President Hage Geingob – a politician – during which he freely and with permission asked questions which were in the public interest and needed to be addressed.
“Ironically, the management of the Namibia Press Agency (Nampa) viewed our colleague’s will and zeal to execute his duties as a matter deserving retribution. This resulted in a leaked communique in which the agency’s management distanced itself from the journalist’s conduct.
“This incident confirms allegations that state-owned media continues to be controlled by politicians (elected officials) to advance their personal interests, thereby suppressing the mandate of these media outlets, which is to advance the voices of the voiceless.
“It is disappointing to witness the managers of state-owned media dancing to the tune of their masters’ sad song of betrayal of the Namibian people.
“As a collective we believe it is the prerogative of newsroom managers to stand up and protect staff members instead of leaving them exposed to intimidation and threats. They should be the challengers and critics of the government of the day in building the nation. Their lethargy is an impediment to democracy.
“It is our firm belief that Namibia, being a torchbearer of media freedom, should protect the rights of journalists and create an atmosphere in which journalists are able to operate freely, independently and uncensored, while promoting democratic values by encouraging debates on contentious issues.
“While this was just one of many incidents during which media bosses and the authorities have tried to suppress a journalist, this trend is growing in the industry and needs to be dealt with. As the press corps, it is imperative that we operate in an environment that is supportive, free and conducive to our daily routines, bearing in mind that our trade is one that is highly intensive, driven by nothing but the need to communicate with, inform and educate the Namibian public.
“We need to ask difficult questions to uphold the victory of our independence. We do this with pride, although in challenging circumstances.
“When the authorities punish a journalist for asking difficult questions, they are betraying the victory over persecution and they are eroding the progress made towards a free Namibia. We will not stand by and watch this happen”.
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger welcomed the collective stand taken by the journalists and said: “This powerful statement by a cross section of journalists should serve as a warning that journalists will defend the right to serve the public interest not narrow political interests. The IFJ stands fully behind those who speak out and act in the best traditions of our profession. Instead of appeasing the politicians, media bosses should also stand alongside journalists in demanding the right to ask difficult questions on behalf of citizens”.
The IFJ’s Africa office is currently working with journalists in Namibia to develop a new trade union to fight for the labour and professional rights of the country’s media workers.
For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16
The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries