Media freedom versus individual liberty

By Nkrumah Mushelenga

DEAR compatriots, ‘History is the best judge whose verdict cannot be ignored’, however the question is why is there so much focus on freedom of the media at the expense of the liberty of individuals?

To provide an inclusive legitimate narrative on this subject matter, allow me to revert back to history. The questions are what is freedom and to what extent is media freedom an absolute freedom? Mind you, journalists are communicators and communication is a two-way traffic -vertical and horizontal transport network. Is absolute freedom a reality?

Synonyms of the word freedom are;

• Liberty

• Autonomy

• Independence

• Choice

• Lack of restrictions

According to Article 7 of the Namibian Constitution, ‘No person shall be deprived of personal liberty except according to procedures established by law’.

The next question is what is the key role of the media post-colonial era? To;

1. Inform

2. Educate and

3. Entertain.

During colonial time:

• Propagate

Synonyms of the word propagate;

1. Spread

2. Broadcast

3. Proliferate

4. Circulate

There was no access to the prime sources thus, no verification and no accountability towards individuals or the media houses.

Who are the consumers of information? Individual members of the public.

Synonyms of individuals are;

1. Separate

2. Specific

3. Single and;

4. Singular

From the above four synonyms one can believe that by informing, educating and entertaining the public, the media gives knowledge of a selected topic objectively.

Synonyms of the word objective are;

1. Impartial

2. Neutral

3. Unbiased

The fact remains that in politicking there is no absolute (total) objectivity, impartiality, neutrality and unbiased system or human being.  Hence the sayings ‘politics is a dirty game’ and ‘there is no permanent enemy in politics’.

Synonyms of educate are;

1. Teaching

2. Instruction

3. Coaching and;

4. Informing

Teaching in reality means influencing audiences consisting of a group of individual members of a community through educating them on your institution’s ability or expertise to handle political or social economic orders.

The question is who owns the media? In some instances, the State or members of the community own the media. It is thus, legitimate to conclude that there are some instances of media freedom but not absolute media freedom. Why? Because media house owners have adopted certain ethical standards to regulate their specific business interests. For example, (in many instances) media’s survival depends on advertisements.

Synonyms of the word absolute;

1. Total

2. Complete

3. Outright

4. Unconditional

The reality as being exhibited by the four synonyms tells us that there is no and there will be no absolute media freedom in the world. What we can experience is the relative instances qualifying status of media freedom. The possibility of total media freedom, complete media freedom, outright media freedom and unconditional media freedom is and will remain a utopian dream.

Synonyms of the word rights are;

1. Privileges

2. Truth

3. Honesties

4. Morality

5. Human rights

6. Civil rights

7. Constitutional rights

It is a fact that there are no absolute rights in any governing system or community. Hence there is a saying,  ‘My rights end where your rights come in’, thus, rights are characterised by individualistic states. It is thus, logic to conclude that for governance of the freedom of the media and the individual rights to be reconciled or be harmonised government, media houses and members of the public should work together to address the limitations (push factors).

Synonyms of the word limitations;

1. Limits

2. Confines

3. Boundaries

4. Borders

5. Restrictions

Where a governing system has confined itself to limits, boundaries, and restrictions, it is obvious that the chances of absolute media freedom, is not applicable.

Synonyms of push factor;

1. Thrust

2. Ambition

3. Momentum

Synonyms of pull factor;

1. Attractions

2. Appeal

Media houses are expected to produce accurate information. Why? Because the consumers of information are members of the public, whom based on their individual rights are entitled to precise and truthful information. Accurate information is when such evidence is from first (primary) source of information.

For accountability purposes, the President appoints a Minister for Information who is accountable for the administration of his or her ministry. Accurate information in this case can only be obtained from the Public Relations officer of the ministry.

The question is what is attracting, appealing or motivating  members of the public to express themselves more on media freedom at the expenses of individual freedom.? To qualify my narrative, I started analysing the key role of the media as follows: To;

1. Inform,

2. Educate, and

3. Entertain

I looked at the synonyms of;

1. Freedom

2. Individuals

3. Objective

4. Education

5. Absolute

6. Rights

7. Limitations

8. Push factors

9. Pull factors

All indications are that there has never been absolute (total) freedom and individual total freedom because positive and positive repel, while positive and negative attract each other.

Government is the guarantee of freedom of the media concept and it is basically a two-way street. Media is the watchdog of media freedom. We congratulate media houses for the professional manner in which they have been timely informing members of the public about suspected corrupt practices within government establishments including parastatals and local councils.

The government, media and the public should be able to co-exist by narrowing the gaps (push factors) for the benefit of our country and its people.

Hence government, members of the public and the media should complement each other to safeguard the flourishing of media freedom in the land of the brave.

Nkrumah Mushelenga, Rt. Commissioner for Refugees, former NNLVA National Coordinator and chairperson and founder of Peter Nanyemba Veterans Trust