Students debate access to information

By Paulina Ndalikokule

UNIVERSITY students gathered last week to debate the issue of freedom of information in Namibia at a Media Fair held by the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST).

At the event, the students held panel discussions and debated a motion that Namibia needs an Access to Information law to enhance democracy. The debate saw students from NUST, the International University of Management (IUM), University of Namibia (UNAM) and Triumphant College in attendance.

The NUST team of Tario Muparadzi and Israel Diamond won after they argued that media companies like the Namibian Broadcasting Cooperation (NBC) should be owned by a private entity. They argued that government does not need to limit access to information because it brings ineffectiveness and biased reporting. “Just look at NBC, it’s like it is there to just make government look good and not to effectively inform and provide the information needed by the public,” Diamond said.

IUM students Oscar Nimrod and Alexander Nghabe took the second price and argued that the government was not empowering the media industry by limiting access to essential information. “There is no competition for companies like NBC, that’s why their quality of reporting is not up to standard. New Era is challenged by The Namibian and other newspapers; that is why we need media houses to be privately owned,” they said.

The students from UNAM and Triumphant College argued against the motion to the effect that government needs to protect some sensitive information, which is not of immediate public interest. “Through the establishment of NBC, government has been able to create jobs, inform and educate the public on things of concern,” they argued.

The moderator of the Media Fair, Sluysken Samupofu, a second-year economics student and treasurer for the NUST media communication society proposed the topic. “I wanted the focus to be on the fact that the digital economy is coming soon, plus there is fear of the fourth Industrial Revolution,” he said.

Other topics that were thoroughly interrogated included the question whether freedom of information can ever be a reality in Namibia, as well as potential career paths in Namibia. Samupofu said the reason for choosing such topics was to find out if, among others, the media controls what the public get to see.

The media influence the views and emotions of the people and the way consumers react to certain issues, which is especially relevant in an election year. “Emotions are going to be all over the place, as a matter of fact they are in full swing right now. That’s why we chose this topic,” Samupofu said.

The fair was facilitated by Dr. Hugh Ellis, a lecturer in the Department of Communication at NUST, Gwen Lister, executive director of the Namibia Media Trust, Graham Hopwood, executive director of Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), and chairperson of the Internet Governance Forum, Natasha Tibinyane.

The event was organised by Nedbank Namibia in collaboration with NUST to discuss issues affecting the status of digitalisation in Namibia under the theme ‘Catalysing the Digital Economy’.