IT’S when politicians become defensive and have something to hide that they try to silence the media and stifle public criticism.
This is not the first time the NBC ‘Chat Show’ has been taken off the air, and it won’t be the last. When people are given public platforms to voice their opinions, such as the call-in shows and the SMS pages in this newspaper, our political leadership soon takes exception when they’re exposed to criticism.
AND this should surely speak to us about their calibre, or lack thereof, as political leadership. There’s a clear lack of substance to many of them with the fragile egos and laughable posturing as ‘honourables’ and ‘excellencies’, when they’re in actual fact far from being either! All things being equal, many don’t deserve the jobs they hold courtesy, not of merit, but of the party-list system and most of them wouldn’t be in public office at all in more mature democracies.
So banning talk shows and similar forums for debate isn’t suddenly going to transform them into respected pillars of society whose knowledge, work ethic, and commitment to the electorate, rather than themselves, is unquestioned!
As Norman Tjombe of the Legal Assistance Centre said this week: “We cannot stifle public debate because office-bearers cannot face the heat.”
We’ve said before and say once again that national chat shows need to be monitored with a delay device as well as appropriately qualified presenters, for cutting off callers who abuse their free speech and who engage in public or ethnic incitement and libellous statements. If the NBC and its staff can’t or won’t understand the importance of these checks and balances, then they should be brought to book. But why punish the public for their inefficiencies and ineptitudes?
In this newspaper too, citizens have the right to express their views through letters or the SMS pages. But while the right to criticise is a given, we also cannot publish derogatory or inflammatory messages, and if people abuse this platform, we refrain from publishing these contributions.
But frequently politicians too abuse their parliamentary and other privileges to vilify those they consider the ‘enemy’, and so they can hardly claim to be setting the tone when it comes to educating people as to their rights and responsibilities in a democracy! Small wonder then that members of the public follow suit.
The NBC, therefore, needs to simply ensure that it monitors the process properly rather than resort to banning such programmes outright.
The most recent ban was preceded by certain statements by branches of the ruling party, Swapo, and the National Council, both of whom have made similar noises about our SMS pages. We can assure the public, whatever lies in store for us on this front, that we will not collapse as easily as the NBC did in the face of political pressure, and we will keep these pages alive!
Apart from its more obvious benefits in a democracy, guaranteed free speech is an important safety valve in any society, particularly those where governments are not inclusive. If people are denied such rights it only serves to contribute to a pressure-cooker type environment, which can blow at any time.
Being an election year, it is even more incumbent upon Government to allow free political campaigning and speech so that our citizens may make the choices they need to make with as much information at their disposal as possible. If political opposition is silenced, and free speech is censored, it is a recipe for disaster for any democratic society. It is precisely then that opposition begins to go underground with usually dire consequences for the stability of a country.
So I’m saying really two things here: that politicians should lead by example and behave themselves at all times in a manner appropriate to their public office and themselves refrain from abusing their rights to free speech, and perhaps the people will follow suit.
Secondly, the NBC should retract the ban on the ‘Chat Show’ with immediate effect and ensure that it is properly monitored as well as being moderated by staff with the skills to do so.
And this tendency to arbitrarily remove people’s rights to speak out must end once and for all!