Words can kill!

News media plays an important role in perpetuating genocide or enhancing peaceful dialogues amongst groups of feuding generations.

The current debates on the agreement that has been reached between the Namibian and German governments regarding the 1904-1908 genocide, require sober dialogue and more so, responsible journalism that does not incite and stir emotions for a civil uprising.

We are cognisant of the fact that opposition politicians and several genocide interest groups in Namibia have slammed the government’s dealings with Germany under which Berlin officially acknowledged early 20th-century genocide by colonial troops and agreed to an N$18 billion settlement.

Equally so, some government-recognised traditional leaders, who also participated in reparation negotiations, have refused to endorse the agreement reached between Namibian and German authorities, making it difficult for government to forge ahead with the deal.

We do not encourage the notion of self-censorship as a means of  promoting peace and repairing the damage inflicted on Namibians during the German genocide.

While this is so, the media should not be a catalyst and a platform through which those disgruntled push for land grabs, civil unrest and have opportunities to insult others. At the very least, we need to learn from the Rwandan genocide of 1994 where the media has been credited with a critical and adverse role in both inciting and prolonging the violence.

Although many years have passed since our genocide, the Rwandan genocide still has much to teach us about the centrality of media in cases of state violence where an analysis of media opens up important discussions about violence prevention, the regulation of hate speech, and the appropriate forms of intervention.

What is particularly also important is for the media to realise that this issue is sensitive to the affected groups. We are reminded that in the genocide period, German colonial forces in what was then known as South-West Africa brutally quashed a rebellion spearheaded by the Ovaherero and Nama tribes against the seizing of land and livestock by colonists, killing at least 65 000 Ovaherero and 10 000 Nama people. Researchers estimate that as many as 80 percent of the Ovaherero and half of the Nama people were killed.

Verily, we have witnessed that the aspiration not to promote or incite discrimination is one of the cardinal principles of ethical journalism but, nevertheless, some journalists still make political propaganda for violent groups and media still become weapons of intolerance. In a complex news environment journalists are sometimes casual victims of prejudice and political manipulation.

Too often, ignorance and a lack of appreciation of different views and beliefs lead to media stereotypes that reinforce political violence inciters and strengthen the appeal of political extremists.

With great potential to inflate emotions, the genocide debate now, more than ever, needs a media that is responsible to its call of duty critical in providing the public with full, reliable and non-partisan information.

In this time, Namibian mainstream media needs to apply conflict sensitive journalism which provides the public with more comprehensive, neutral and accurate information on the genocide negotiations at the expense of individual views that are aimed at threatening and fuelling violence.