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Geingob recommits to media freedom

President Hage Geingob has recommitted his government to media freedom amid friction between the media and government public relations officers.

Geingob’s commemoration statement, issued yesterday, came a few days shy of the Namibia Media Professionals Union (Nampu) petitioning executive director of information and communication technology Audrin Mathe to discuss the lack of communication from government spokespersons.

To commemorate Universal Access to Information Day, observed today, Geingob emphasised that his government sees this as a “core pillar” of effective governance, which is part of his presidential plan.

“It is in itself a demonstration of the commitment of the government to ensure access to information as a core pillar of effective governance, as enshrined in the Harambee Prosperity Plan,” Geingob noted in a statement yesterday.

He reiterated that Namibia has consistently been ranked as the country in Africa with the freest press.

However, the members of Nampu face a different reality.

Nampu labelled the public relations officers of various government offices, ministries and agencies as non-performing and often hostile.

“Access to information is essential for us to fulfil this crucial responsibility effectively. However, we have faced immense challenges in obtaining information from government offices due to the non-responsiveness of public relations officers,” the union’s petition reads.

Nampu further noted that public relations officers selectively distribute information.

“Nampu has also received disturbing reports from journalists regarding the actions of certain public relations officers, specifically that some deliberately distribute selected and filtered information to journalists via WhatsApp platforms in an attempt to influence how government matters are reported,” the petition notes.

The union cautioned the ministry that the “blatant disregard” for the journalists’ inquiries threatens Namibia’s ranking as having the freest press on the continent.

“It is imperative that these issues are urgently addressed to safeguard the integrity of Namibia’s free press, preserve citizens’ access to information and uphold the democratic values that our nation cherishes,” Nampu noted.

During a meeting between Nampu representatives and Mathe on Monday in Windhoek, the executive director reaffirmed the government’s dedication to providing information to the media and encouraged media practitioners to uphold the highest standards of ethics.

Furthermore, the president referenced the promulgation of the access to information (ATI) law enacted in December 2022, which is yet to be operationalised.

Information ministry spokesperson Shoki Kandjimi yesterday told The Namibian they have submitted the ATI Act’s regulations that are yet to reach parliament.

“The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has submitted the draft ATI Act regulations to the Office of the Attorney General for advice and certification before it is tabled in parliament during this current session,” Kandjimi said.

If given the thumbs up by parliament, the ministry will be responsible for setting up the information officer’s office.

In May, information minister Peya Mushelenga said the government planned N$20 million for the 2023/24 financial year to go towards the establishment of the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Geingob further added that projects like e-government services and improving network coverage are the government’s efforts to improve online platforms for Namibians to access government services and information.

“Hence, these measures reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that every Namibian can exercise their right to access information held by public authorities,” he said.

Currently, at least 49% of the Namibian population still has no access to the internet.

The Namibia Media Trust (NMT), in a statement issued yesterday, said it appealed to the government to finalise the ATI Act regulations.

“In light of this, we earnestly appeal to the government to maintain its steadfast dedication to the principle of proactive disclosure, even as the finalisation of regulations governing the country’s ATI infrastructure is underway,” NMT noted.

They also reflected on Namibia’s freest press rating.

“One of the most significant triumphs lies in the fact that journalists who exercise their right to access information, do so without fear of repercussion.

“This is not so elsewhere in the region; a case in point being that of Ralikonelo Joki, who, in a tragic turn of events this year, was shot 13 times for his brave work in reporting on corruption within Lesotho,” noted the NMT.