In Defence of Our Editorial Independence

The New Era Publication Corporation (NEPC) has noted with not only worrying interest but with equal reservation the innuendos and insinuations published in last Friday’s edition of The Namibian.

As per this report the launch of the Oshiwambo publication Kundana was no mere coincidence, because it is meant to cater for the ruling party’s biggest support base as this is election year. This is highly misleading and tantamount to a malicious attack on Kundana and the integrity of the newspaper and NEPC.

It also comes as especially worrisome that such innuendos and insinuations, which are obviously not based on a researched study, are associated with what is supposed to be a reputable organisation like the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). We consider such innuendos and insinuations as nothing but a personal attack on NEPC and its publications, more so in view of the fact that they are not based on any scientific study.

But more than this, this confirms the perception that MISA has not matured beyond a true and credible media organisation that stands for the interests of all media organisations supposed to be falling in its fold, as it has often been touting itself to be, but a reputation that seems to have been disintegrating, especially in view of such unsubstantiated, uninformed and self-opinionated views purported as views of experts.

The NEPC is, and has always considered itself and its publications as being, part of the media fraternity, as much it has always been appreciative of the role that MISA has been playing in providing the media with the requisite compass in terms of professionalism. It is in this regard that the NEPC has never responded to whatever criticisms have been directed towards it, and its publications, regarding friendly and professional criticisms, and in good faith from a reputable media umbrella. But if the latest indulgence of MISA is anything to go by, one wonders how much confidence one can put in MISA, let alone in it instilling the necessary sense of professionalism among media operators in Namibia.

One cannot now but doubt the good faith and intention of MISA today. Does it want to open up the debate about the existence of NEPC and its publication, 20 years or so after the fact? Because Kundana is a natural outflow and integral part of the mandate of NEPC. Such a mandate includes “to provide an objective and factual information service by compiling and publishing a newspaper, the New Era, in the English language as well as in the different indigenous languages of Namibia”. Interestingly, while this has always been the clear mandate of the NEPC, never has MISA bothered to question to what extent NEPC has been able to carry out such a mandate, especially as far as the vernacular languages are concerned. In fact in terms of the languages we dare to admit we at NEPC have not been doing our respective indigenous languages due justice. This is something we realised overtime, hence the birth of Kundana. And who knows what’s next?

Kundana’s discerning readers have remained loyal from day one, with an increasing number of new readers, not because the newspaper peddles political propaganda but because of the appreciation of a newspaper in a language people are comfortable reading, and which furthers the constituting mandate of the New Era Publication Corporation Act: to report on “community-related issues, particularly such issues as may be of importance in the rural areas of Namibia issues of national interest and government related matters which may concern the community.”

A candid and sincere analysis of contents carried in Kundana will reveal just that, proving that the insinuated peddling of political propaganda in that newspaper is but a figment of the imagination of “media analysts”. The same should be said of the New Era Braille newspaper, and the main title in the NEPC fold, New Era. MISA, and its local chapter, MISA Namibia, for the most part have seemingly been involved in aocacy work, which, although directly related to the work of media practitioners, and somehow had been impacting on the way media practitioners operate, do not seem to have been having an immediate impact on their work. In this regard MISA, especially MISA Namibia, has been less visible, or less of any practical and meaningful essence to most media practitioners in this country. We can only hope it would soon wake up and start to attend to such. To underline this, the MISA Namibia Constitution states as follows the first objective: “To promote and defend Press Freedom, to take appropriate steps where such freedoms are violated, to seek to remove obstacles and impediments to the free flow of information.”

Likewise, the MISA Regional Constitution’s first objective reads as follows: “To promote and defend media freedom, to take appropriate steps where such freedoms are violated and to seek to remove obstacles and impediments to the free flow of information.” It is thus obvious that MISA Namibia was modelled on the preoccupation, andor perceived threats to the media at the time in the Southern African region, which politically was in a state of flux or fluidity due to unstable and repressive regimes, with the media partly bearing the brunt of such repressions. Hence, the preoccupation or seeming preoccupation with seemingly high profile aocacy programmes, which to this day still seem manifest in many of the activities of MISA, and MISA Namibia. Besides the annual media awards, there have been few visible home-grown programmes by MISA and MISA Namibia to respond to media problems as perceived by media practitioners locally. This is a situation that the local chapter has inherited from the mother body and seems to have blindly intractably entangled itself in since its existence. Indeed, NEPC has always expressed its support for an independent media sector, as amply demonstrated through its unremitting content that encourage an analytical and pluralistic media environment.

Thus World Press Freedom Day should be celebrated in a manner that unites the media to address social inequalities, demand social justice for all, and address real, not perceived, shortcomings in newsrooms, such as skills shortages, apathy among citizens and journalists on issues that encourage or discourage media freedom and freedom of speech. Yes, and highlight where the public owned media institutions have failed. But not to simply taint the public media as the bad apples for the purpose of gaining donor-funding points. Such persistent rancorous attacks year in, year out on “state-owned media” do not only divide but demoralise and destroy the integrity of the dedicated, disciplined and hard working professionals at public media institutions, who are interrogated every day, unnecessarily so, through their news coverage, about their personal commitment to the founding principles of democracy.

Source : New Era