Namibia Media Trust Marks World Press Freedom Day 2015

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, 03 May, the Namibia Media Trust (NMT) noted with dismay the deterioration in media freedom across the globe.

According to the US-based Freedom House, in its Freedom of the Press 2015 report, global press freedom has declined to its lowest point in more than ten years and only 14% of the world’s inhabitants, namely 1 in 7 people, lived in countries with a free press in 2014. The findings showed that harsh laws and violence had driven the global decline.

Executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Joel Simon, said that a myriad of threats, from “surveillance and self-censorship to violence and imprisonment”, “make this the most deadly and dangerous period for journalists in recent history”:.

Although there is a glimmer of hope in in the key global findings of Freedom House that sub-Saharan Africa is the only region which has shown a slight improvement, the continent is nevertheless home to some of what Freedom House call the “worst of the worst” abusers, including the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. Only this week the Government of Burundi shut down independent media and cut off access to social media sites, due to protests which had erupted over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s seeking a third term in office. Inevitably, in countries where it is dangerous to practice journalism, it’s dangerous for the people too.

Across the continent scores of journalists continue to be both imprisoned and killed, in many cases simply for doing their job.

Chair of the NMT, Gwen Lister, said it was ‘significant’ that the event which gave birth to World Press Freedom Day, was the adoption in Namibia’s capital city of the Windhoek Declaration on May 3 1991. At that time African journalists threw off the shackles of state control in favour of free and independent media across the continent. This gave rise to a new period of optimism and hope for African media which has seen some progress, but more frequently setbacks, over the decades since then.

The NMT, which aocates media freedom as well as freedom of speech and expression and excellence in journalism, both in Namibia and further afield, is concerned about the current decline in freedoms, especially closer to home.

It urges that African governments remind themselves of the sentiment at the heart of the Windhoek Declaration, namely “that the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.”

“If journalists are not free to do their work in a safe and enabling environment, then citizens too are deprived their rights to information and freedom of speech,” said NMT Chair, Gwen Lister.

Namibia’s media environment has received positive ratings by both Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, and is freer than most other parts of Africa, but concerns remain. Media struggle to access information from official sources, which in turn inhibits good investigative journalism and ethical practices. While Namibia’s Information Minister recently said that a freedom of information act is currently in the starting blocks, it is important to ensure that this happens in a consultative environment in order for media freedom to be consolidated.

In the digital era, it is also imperative that citizens be given open and affordable access to the internet in order to promote access to information, and to be guaranteed the freedom to exercise their opinions on this platform. NMT calls on governments not to curb these voices. It also calls on media to take an interest in media freedom issues and commit to solidarity with journalists everywhere.

‘Let Journalism Thrive’ is how UNESCO has themed World Press Freedom Day 2015.

It can only do so if it happens in a free and enabling environment in which journalists are not harassed, jailed or killed for their work.

Source : The Namibian