A press that censors facts is dangerous for democracy

By Dr Alfredo Hengari

On 26 April 2021, President Hage G. Geingob concluded highly successful three-day consultations and meetings in the Zambezi region with traditional authorities in Katima Mulilo, residents of the Impalila Island and the Nchindo family.
The Presidency issued a statement detailing the nature of the meetings, the key stakeholders and the issues raised. In light of the fact that the meetings and consultations advanced the purposes of nation building, social cohesion and the developmental aspirations of the country, the final outcomes did not meet the test of daily publications, Die Republikein, The Namibian and the Namibian Sun.

The Afrikaans Daily, Die Republikein, which has retreated from nation building, would rather have front-page news, ‘Skones Skud Hul Vere Reg’ (Beauties shake their feathers), ignoring the activities of the elected Head of State, who advances stability, development and nation building.
What are the criteria for frontpage news in the Namibian Sun and The Namibian? If a story does not divide Namibians and pit persons or groups (often-times black people) against one another, it is not newsworthy!

If a report is not about corruption, murder or poverty or fit for a sensational headline, it is simply not good enough! If there is no vilification of a person or Government institution, it is not good enough!

How do we build an honest conversation about ourselves and our future under conditions of siege by a hostile, partisan and divisive press?
Yesterday, 27 April and today, 28 April, both The Namibian and the Namibian Sun, in their default mode, reported on the presence of the President in the region in that biased manner. In light of the fact that the traditional authorities in the region, the communities and the Nchindo Family rallied behind the approach taken by President Geingob and the Government, the constructive voices were intentionally strangled and the opinions of the Zambezi Lives Matter movement amplified to continue fostering divisions and to cast aspersions on positive developments with regard to the senseless killings of the Nchindo brothers by the Botswana Defence Force.
What should Namibians and journalists with an ethic of the profession make of the frontpage article yesterday (27 April) in The Namibian, ‘Geingob’s Impalila visit came too late’ and today (28 April) in the Namibian Sun, ‘Zambezi Movement Accuses Geingob of ‘Black Apartheid’ tactics,’ which contains factual inaccuracies and where the cardinal professional journalistic ethic of the right of reply is butchered? How did reports of this nature pass editorial control, which should emphasise objectivity, right of reply and fairness in reporting? As a journalist, when a claim is made that the President “came too late” to the Island to visit the Nchindo family and the community, is the journalist not obliged to factually report that the Vice President of the Republic of Namibia was at the funeral of the Nchindo brothers, and several Ministers have been in the region to strengthen border security and regional mechanisms? Is the journalist not supposed to contextually frame that President Geingob met with the family representatives in Windhoek immediately after the killings of 5 November 2020?
This type of sloppy journalism, which skips core facts, passes because it is part of the general diet of disinformation, opinion journalism and oppositional politics prevalent in some of the newsrooms. Credible journalism should make a distinction between three people who organise a protest, and the legitimacy of the elected President, who is the expression of the sovereignty of the Namibian people.

What is regrettable is that when the Presidency challenges lies and disinformation, a group of “concerned journalists” will write to the International Federation for Journalists in Paris, France with “frivolous claims” and “petty inventions” about “verbal attacks” and “muzzling of media.” The objective is to see Namibia fall in the rankings and to celebrate the drop on the front page, which to their chagrin has not happened in the past three years with Namibia retaining the number 1 position in Press Freedom in Africa for consecutive years.

These anti-intellectual and anti-democracy “concerned journalists” believe that it is fine to call others incompetent, and only they can engage in endless bouts of finger pointing in daily and weekly editorials. Sadly, since they are anti-intellectual and not convinced about contradiction, they believe that the press is holy and above critique. On the contrary, the point should be made that the pluralistic and independent press is not above public evaluation, critique and commentary about its raison d’être in a democracy.
As media practitioners and journalists converge in Windhoek this week to celebrate 30 years of the Windhoek Declaration and World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2021, President Geingob restates his commitment to freedom of the press and the protection of journalists. However, the national press could also use this occasion to reflect critically about the state of the profession, quality, ethics, its practices and its role in the advancement of nation building, development and democracy. After all, a press that stifles debate and one that does not inform and report factually is dangerous for democracy and development.
* Dr Alfredo Hengari is the Press Secretary in the Office of the President