Namibia tackles African media

Windhoek- Namibia (PANA) -- Journalists hoping for a field day at the 3-5 May conference on the promotion of press freedom in Africa were forced to think again soon after they arrived in Windhoek, the Namibian capital, venue of the event.
The first signs that relations between the Namibian government and the African media had gone sour appeared Wednesday in a letter signed by the UNESCO country representative in Namibia, Johnny McClain, addressed to foreign journalists who are in the country for the conference.
The note, said to have been inspired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Information and Broadcasting, told the reporters that their "Courtesy Visas" do not allow them to report on events other than the press freedom conference they were attending.
The memo advised journalists who intend to report local issues to contact designated officials for clearance.
However, Southern African Editors took exception to the order and advised their colleagues to ignore it.
"Just ignore the note.
If a story breaks, it is a story.
The work permit only applies for tax purposes and we are not here to earn money," said Phil Molefe of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
Zimbabwean Editor Trevor Ncube said the note should be dismissed "with the contempt it deserves".
It was later learnt that the issues had come up during preparations for the meeting between officials of MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa) and the Ministry.
MISA Regional Director, Luckson Chipare, said the government had been advised to drop the issue adding, "I thought it was solved and that the government would not push it further," he said in reaction to the ban.
Many delegates who had thought the matter would soon be forgotten as the conference advanced were taken aback early Thursday when it was learnt that President Sam Nujoma, who was billed to open the Press Freedom Day celebration and the conference would no longer show up.
The Namibian, a prominent local daily, which has been denied government adverts since December 2000 for printing stories which authorities considered offensive, reported that the President had chosen to spend time on his farm rather that appear at the august gathering.
It did not matter that the government wholeheartedly hosted the seminar that gave birth to the Windhoek Declaration of 1991 which officials acknowledge put Namibia on the world map.
The Declaration inspired the United Nations Declaration of 3 May as World Press Freedom Day.
So, why the anger? many delegates asked.
Some of the seeds of discord began to filter out when the Information and Broadcasting Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab delivered the President's well-prepared speech, which one delegate qualified as a "veritable riot Act for journalists.
" After reiterating the importance of developing free, vibrant, and pluralistic media and the indispensable role they play in the entrenchment of values and freedoms in the nation, the Minister gave a hint that the speech could also be taken as pieces of tutorials on how the African media should go about the business of reporting the continent.
"Your celebration also gives us the opportunity to reflect on our experiences with the media and to present challenges to you to contribute to the development of the African continent and to depict a truthful and positive image of the African continent in the international arena," he said.
The African media, the President's speech says, should become the instrument of change - informing, bridging gaps and establishing dialogue, stressing that a free and vibrant media have the potential to contribute to intelligent and informed participation in development efforts.
But it observed that the continent's media are failing in properly reporting Africa's achievements and victories to the rest of the international community.
"Since the 1991 seminar, the situation has not changed.
Africa still faces great problems in producing quality newspapers that serve the real needs of our various communities.
"Too much space is given to material that is foreign to the needs of Africans.
"The African media should give more prominence and better coverage of the African continent and reduce their dependence on imported European and American copy," the Namibian leader enjoined.
He said "Africa should produce credible and quality output on African success stories and disseminate that information to counter the prevailing negative impression that African news is only about devastation, human suffering and corruption.
" Nujoma noted that while the media and government could be partners in development, nothing precluded occasional tense relations between the First Estate and the Fourth Estate.
He challenged MISA in particular, and the African media at large "to inform governments on what they have done or are planning to do to enhance professionalism in the media, to develop a Code of Ethics and to ensure that it is applied, to ensure that their products are affordable even to the poorest of the poor, and to ensure that their products are accessible even in the remotest areas of their respective countries.
" Nujoma, however, says there appears to be universal misconception on the meaning of freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
"While governments and their leaders are not above criticism, the same is true for the media.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
The tension between the media and the State could be less if the media are cognisant of the fact that freedoms must be accompanied by responsibilities, some of which include respecting people's privacy, being objective, checking facts and affording people the chance to respond to allegations against them," he argued.

03 mai 2001 21:11:00




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