New Era reviews editorial policyBy: SELMA SHIPANGA
THE Government-owned newspaper New Era is reviewing its editorial and recruitment policies in an apparent attempt to exert more control over the paper’s reporting.
The board chairman, Ben Mulongeni, has confirmed the review, but said that it was not aimed at muzzling the paper.
“Yes, we are reviewing the editorial policy. There comes a time where every company looks at whether its objectives are met and if not – then it redirects. We are basically going back to the drawing board to what the New Era mission was when it was established,” Mulongeni said.
He said the paper was “going out of its mandate”, adding that “we were starting to see an element of tabloid reporting”.
The chairman also said that the decision to review the editorial policy was an initiative of the board and not the government. The board members of New Era are appointed by the Minister of Information and Communication Technology.
Approached for comment about the review process, Information Minister Joel Kaapanda referred all inquiries to Mulongeni.
The review plans come in the wake of observations that the newspaper is “no longer serving the purpose it was established for”, allegedly having resorted to attacking government policies and writing sensational and scandalous stories while ignoring developmental stories, The Namibian has learned.
The Namibian is also informed that the government’s fear is that the newspaper has become a “depository of leaked Cabinet documents”, which should be brought to an end.
New Era in the past has irked government ministers with reports based on leaked government documents.
The paper receives an annual subsidy of about N$5 million from the government and some ministers have criticised it for being “too critical” of government programmes.
The process will also include a review of the paper’s code of conduct to “tighten” it and to hold reporters accountable through proper disciplinary action.
The review comes not long after some parliamentarians took issue with State-sponsored media in the country, accusing them of selective coverage of official events and being “pathetic”.
In April this year, Swapo MP and Foreign Affairs Minister Utoni Nujoma accused New Era of “covering negative aspects of government” and demanded to know why, seeing that it was government funded.
Mulongeni maintained that the review had nothing to do with articles published in the paper appearing to be criticising government policies and programmes.
“Criticism is good. Criticism is in the public interest, but some of these funny juicy things published are only interesting to the public, but not in the public interest. There are things that are interesting to the public, but not necessarily in the public interest,” he said.
The New Era newspaper is a state-owned enterprise which was set up in accordance with the New Era Publication Corporation Act of 1992.
Mulongeni said the newspaper was formed to articulate objective and factual information that promote the Namibian national interest.
The Namibian is informed that a week ago, the board brought in a senior media practitioner from Zimbabwe to provide reorientation training to journalists in analytical writing as opposed to narrative writing.
Zimbabwe is known for its tight control over media and its reporters, particular those working for state media.
The training aims to encourage editors and assistant editors to “tighten their supervisory roles to ensure that there are no stories which defy the purpose of the newspaper”.
The acting national director of the Namibian chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa Namibia), Ngamane Karuaihe-Upi, said that the government had a duty to serve the public and one of the main ways was by informing the public.
“Democracy entrenches freedom of the media. New Era is funded by the taxpayer’s money and it would be a very cowardly thing to do for New Era to give in to government pressure and introduce censorship,” he said.
The New Era Publication Corporation Act of 1992 states that the paper was formulated to report on community-related issues, issues of national interest; and government-related matters which may concern the community.