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Namibia: Geingob Guarantees Press Freedom

Photo: The Namibian

The executive chairperson of the Namibia Media Trust, Gwen Lister, President Hage Geingob and Editors' Forum of Namibia chairperson Joseph Ailonga.

PRESIDENT Hage Geingob yesterday said that as long as he is head of state, press freedom in Namibia is guaranteed.

"Let me tell you here that as long as I am given the mandate to lead this great country, the freedom of the press is guaranteed," Geingob said at the official World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Windhoek.

While acknowledging that he was proud of Namibia's number one position in Africa on the World Press Freedom Index rankings of Reporters Without Borders, and the fact that long-established democracies such as France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America were ranked lower, the President said Namibia could even do better.

"This is not to say that we are happy with the status quo in our country. Far from it. We want our media to be the freest in the world. We are talking about being number one, not just in Africa, but in the world," he stated.

The President acknowledged that with media diversity came new challenges, such as the difficulty to get reliable news, as well as the emergence of the 'fake news' phenomenon. He added that in this environment, newspapers have gained new respect as even television newscasters referred to the print media to give credence to their broadcasts.

According to him, a free press wields great power to effect change. For that reason, media practitioners have an obligation to remember that with great power came great responsibility.

"They must guard against becoming lap dogs or attack dogs. They must be the watchdogs," Geingob stressed.

This year's celebrations were held under the theme 'Critical minds for critical times: Media's role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies'.

Geingob said the theme was appropriate as Namibia remained committed to press freedom and to critical minds, and that government, with media as the 'fourth estate', would play its role in building a peaceful, just and inclusive society.

He added that with the 'fake news' phenomenon and the ability of anyone to create news these days, it was crucial for the media to not become corrupted through a lack of accountability and transparency.

"Journalists must know that they are accountable for the information they convey to society. When government speaks of introducing checks and balances with regards to the press, we are not calling for our journalists to be muzzled. Rather, we are calling upon our journalists to practise their journalism with a clear conscience, liberated by accountability," Geingob said.

The celebratory event was attended by members of the media, European Union and United Nations representatives as well as government officials and diplomats. As part of the programme, veteran journalist and Namibia Media Trust chairperson Gwen Lister interviewed the editor of Swaziland's The Nation magazine, Bheki Makhubu, on the topic 'journalism is not a crime'.

Makhubu was arrested and imprisoned for contempt of court in 2014. At yesterday's event, he received a Windhoek Declaration scroll in honour of his work in journalism.

The Swazi editor commended Namibia's press freedom, and said the fact that the President celebrated the day with the media was a sign of how well Namibia is doing.

United Nations resident coordinator Kiki Gbeho also said Geingob's presence was testament to a transparent and free media landscape.

The Editors Forum of Namibia used yesterday's event to launch the revised code of ethics for the Namibian print, broadcast and online media.

The new code is groundbreaking in important respects as it is the first co-regulatory framework on the continent and amongst the most progressive in the world, accommodating government regulatory mechanisms amongst its provisions.

While the old code of conduct spoke primarily to print media conditions, the new one caters to ethical considerations across print, broadcast and online media categories.

Amongst the revised provisions are strengthened complaint procedures and penalties, as well as emphasising the protection of whistle-blowers and enhancing media pluralism.

Lister described the revised code as a "trendsetter on the continent and a source of pride".

EU ambassador Jana Hybaskova congratulated Namibia on the new regulatory framework, and acknowledged its visionary nature and substance.

Apart from the praises for the new code, Namibian media also received several solidarity messages at the event.

In a message read on its behalf, the Southern African Editors Forum said Namibia continues to stand out as a shining beacon of press freedom in the region.

Furthermore, EFN secretary general Dani Booysen announced that long-serving media ombudsman Clement Daniels would be stepping down soon, and that applications and nominations would be welcomed for the position.

Daniels also received a Windhoek Declaration scroll in absentia for his contributions to Namibia's media freedom environment.

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