Namibia is one of the youngest democracies in Africa, is also among the top leading countries in terms of freedom of the press since her independent in 1990. During the colonial administration, laws governing defense, prison, the police, and internal security act all severely restricted what the journalist could report, publish, photograph. The press could not report anything against the interest of the South African regime, the media coverage of the activities of the Guerrilla or SWAPO (South West African People Organization) was strictly prohibited.
Immediately after her independence, the constitution of the country explicitly guarantees press freedom, including the ownership and publication of privately owned newspapers. Under article 21, the freedom of speech and expression of individual, the press and other media are expressly stated and the country was rated first in Africa in terms press freedom. The print media and journalism was freer in Namibia compare to how it was under the Pretoria regime when all forms of media freedom were restricted.
The recent attacks and infringement on media and journalists by the president (Hage Geingob) is an ominous and symbol of democratic erosion in the country. Namibia is rated first in Africa and once 13th in the world in 2013 .The current 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters without Borders which once ranked the country 13th and 17th in 2013 and 2016 respectively shows that the quality of journalism and freedom of the press has dropped from 17th in 2016 to 24th in the world. The media censorship and restriction, especially how the president and the information minister Tjekero Tweya have insulted and intimidated journalists, as well as his attempts to regulate the media might be one of the reasons for this decline in the country’s media freedom ranking. Other reasons for the decline in the freedom of media’s ranking include; government’s intention to prioritize state-owned media for government purposes only, as well as the absence of an access to information law, which hampers journalists in their work to provide information to the public.
Media remains one of the key institutions of democracy, the quality and freedom of media and journalism is one of the attribute to measure liberal nature of democratic system. Freedom of speech as an essential feature of democracy can best be advocated for when the media institution and agencies enjoy their unrestricted freedom. Media is a means of information dissemination, it provides opportunity for the citizen to know the activities of government, and also serve as a tool for the political watchdog and oppositions to participate in competitive democracy, make their views known and check the excesses of the government. By freedom of press I mean; a robust coverage of political news, where the safety of journalists is guaranteed, absent of state intrusion and censorship, arbitrary media control is not in play, and the press is not subjected to onerous legal and economic pressures.
The monopoly of the media by any democratic government does not only reduce its quality but also a signal for democratic backsliding. Most eroded democracies of the world especially in Latin America has one element of media attack or the other; media censorship, threats to life of journalists, imprisonment among others are means through which monopoly of the media are achieved by authoritarian regimes either to elongate the tenure in office or remain in power by providing unequal ground for participants and oppositions during an election and manipulate the outcome of the result. It should be noted here that, government cannot succeed without the role of the media. For instance, Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez both clamped down the freedom of the press, Chavez made changes on the broadcast side – both regulatory and related to ownership. Maduro has continued that trend with print outlets. More journalists say they cannot report freely for mainstream news outlets and have ended up working online, using new platforms such as the messaging app Telegram to get the story out; this ugly situation has a significant effect on the quality of elections in Venezuela.
However, when regimes attack the media, it is not to collapse the institution but to personalize and censor it in such manner that will enable it to achieve its political goal. It is fair to say, based on experience, that media attack is substratum of democratic erosion. Many prevailing authoritarian regimes of the word monopolize the media for personal interest to keep the oppositions under check. Namibia’s constitution guarantees free speech and protects journalists, but journalists are often the target of government threats recently. Critical journalists find a refuge on the Internet, but the major problem with this is that, clicktivism can do little about information dissemination in Namibia because of the level of education, access to internet facility and electricity by the population hence the journalist can achieve little through the internet.
In situations where the journalists are not subject to control, self-censorship is common in the state-owned media. Public order and security legislation is often used to restrict freedom of information. Journalists are often the targets of attacks by political parties. This was the case during the 2014 elections, when both ruling party officials and members of the opposition attacked NBC (Namibian Broadcasting Corporation) journalists. Also in 2010, the state monopolized the media to perpetuate victory for the ruling party in the election. One important thing to know here is that, whenever election is near, the ranking of the country’s in terms of press freedom always goes down and this is because of the activities and attack on the media by the president and the ruling party.
FRANCES ROMNEYA STRNAD
Your discussion of democratic decline resulting from restriction of the press is very intriguing. I agree with your argument that controlling the press contributes to the manipulation of elections. Its interesting to consider how this restriction of speech impacts the “truth” that is understood by the voters. Your examples from South America are very indicative of the types of political corruption that lead to undemocratic elections.
I would like to contribute an additional example from my own article about Kenya’s unfair election in 2017. The Kenyan government implemented very strict media regulations that prevented certain information from being available to the public. However, these laws still allowed fake news to spread across Kenyan social media. This spread a large amount of false information, and contributed to a sense of government mistrust within the country. I think this situation is very similar to the events in Namibia that you have described in this article.
A major issue with this kind of media misrepresentation is the bias and confusion it causes. When citizens can’t even trust media outlets, which are supposed to be guardians of the truth, how can they trust any information provided to them?