Press Freedom Hits Namibia at last

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I was so fed up with the Namibian Government’s ban on the NAMIBIAN NEWSPAPER, that I almost completely quit journalism. At least now I found new motivation to give it another try, when I read this article from today’s Namibian: THE Government yesterday handed The Namibian a birthday present by confirming a Cabinet decision two weeks ago to lift a decade-long advertising ban on the newspaper.

The Namibian turned 26 yesterday.
Announcing the decision in a media statement, the Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Joel Kaapanda, also confirmed an earlier report in this newspaper that the Cabinet had overturned former President Sam Nujoma’s order that no Government department should buy copies of The Namibian.
“Cabinet further directs offices, ministries and agencies to source all local newspapers for political office bearers and senior Government officials in accordance with their sectoral requirements and interests,” the statement said, without naming The Namibian.
The Namibian is the only news medium that the Swapo government has officially boycotted through a Cabinet order and a Presidential decree.
Documents obtained through Government sources in 2000 and 2001 indicated that the Cabinet imposed the sanctions “because of its [The Namibian’s] anti-government stance and unwarranted criticism of Government policies”.
Interestingly, the ban was decided on the birthday of The Namibian’s founding editor, Gwen Lister, on December 5 2000 and yesterday’s announcement marks the reversal on the historic first edition of the activists-driven newspaper 26 years ago.
Even without mentioning The Namibian, the announcement is unambiguous that the Cabinet is moving away from a decision which disregarded the popularity of a media outlet and the use of taxpayer funds to punish a critic, real or perceived.
“That Cabinet directs offices, ministries and agencies to place Government notices, announcements and advertisements on a competitive basis in all local newspapers and publications, as well as electronic media, taking into account procurement requirements in terms of the Tender Board Act,” reads the two-paragraph statement on the letterhead of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.
The letter, signed by Kaapanda, was faxed yesterday afternoon. Kaapanda could not be reached for comment and the Permanent Secretary Mbeuta ua-Ndjarakana did not respond to a message left at his office.
The paper’s editor, Lister, had long argued that while the sanctions did not cripple the paper as the Cabinet seemingly had hoped, it nevertheless denied many readers instant access to vital information such as publicity campaigns on census and voter education.
The Namibian has no peer in popularity, just as it was unparalleled among newspapers in its anti-apartheid stance. It is the country’s largest newspaper in circulation and readership, printing between 32 500 and 46 500 copies a day and selling more than double the number of its second-biggest competitor. It has a readership of about 200 000 a day and one copy is read by up to eight people, according to some research organisations.
Hardly a single Cabinet member is said to have argued for the ban to remain in place, although it stood more than 10 years mainly out of ministers’ deference to Nujoma.
People in the know say President Hifikepunye Pohamba personally led the move to lifting the sanctions. People familiar with Cabinet discussions say some of the ministers juxtaposed The Namibian’s reporting with that of the Swapo mouthpiece Namibia Today, which they said was divisive “because it supports some factions against others within the ruling party”.
Some Cabinet members referred to the government-owned and perennially taxpayer-subsidised New Era as at times more critical than The Namibian and thus making the ban ‘mind-boggling’.
The 2000 boycott of all advertising has regularly been condemned as an imprudent use of government funds merely aimed at muzzling freedom of expression.

About Taati

My name is Taati Niilenge from Namibia. I am a reporter, working for the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation. I am currently studying at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism as a Humphrey Fellow. I plan to make the most of this experience and take a lot of knowledge to my country, especially with regard to Social Media. i do not know a lot right now, but I AM PLANNING TO SUCCEED!

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4 Comments on “Press Freedom Hits Namibia at last”

  1. I remember you mentioning this in class and I find this to be excellent news. I wonder what made the government decide to make this decision now to advertise and recognize The Namibian now, considering “The Namibian is the only news medium that the Swapo government has officially boycotted through a Cabinet order and a Presidential decree,” as the article said.

    What direction will this take the paper or will it not have any effect on the stories that The Namibian covers?

  2. This is so exciting. Perfect timing seeing as obviously this is a great time of change for Namibia and I am just beginning to learn about it! This must give you a whole new sense of motivation to go home and see how this change will effect your daily activities within the media. Also, I wonder if this will cause a change in other countries that might have the same kind of press control. I suppose we will see!

    1. It is indeed a great change. If only the National Broadcaster, where I work, can also gain Press freedom, but they are Parastatal, and of course also controlled. Imagine how I feel when I write a story and mail it for editing, only to see it on the news, with the most important points cut out, because the president or minister would not like it….or called by the CEO of the municipality, who is angry because I wrote that people were complaining at the municipal meeting. Apparently it would put the Ministry of Local government and housing in a bad light with citizens. Can you believe all that? I will be happy to see them taking their grip off the entire Namibian Media…

  3. yes Nabera. Very good question. What made the government change? I think in the end they found out that it had no negative effect on the paper at all. In fact,the paper just became more popular and it is enjoying the greatest number of readers anyway. You know how it is with the audience. They want to hear the truth, and that’s exactly what the paper is doing. It has also recently introduced an sms platform where everybody can have their say, and people make use of this opportunity to have freedom of speech, because nobody knows who said what. The government was fighting a loosing battle. I think they finally realized it. Yeah, i am indeed looking forward to return home, because I might just join the paper. Others are semi-owned by government…

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