Geingob hailed as press freedom champion

Zoé Titus

In a world where freedom of the press is under threat in many countries, Namibia has distinguished itself as the country with the freest press in Africa under the administration of the late president Hage Geingob.

Geingob’s commitment to press freedom has been lauded by many local journalists, media unions and bodies, who say he has allowed journalists to practise their craft freely – without fear, favour or prejudice.

At the official World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Windhoek in 2017, Geingob said as long as he is the head of state, press freedom in Namibia is guaranteed.

“As long as I am given the mandate to lead this great country, the freedom of the press is guaranteed,” he said.

While commending the country’s press freedom rank at the time, Geingob said he wanted Namibian media to be the freest in the world.

“We are talking about being number one, not just in Africa, but in the world,” he said at the time.

On World Press Freedom Day last year, Namibia reclaimed its previous top position on press freedom in Africa.

This is according to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index.

Namibia last held this position in 2021 being toppled by Seychelles in 2022.

The country was ranked 22nd out of 180 countries worldwide, making it a leader in the region.

OPEN-DOOR POLICY

Many journalists who worked with Geingob have described him as a president who had an open-door policy, ready to engage and answer critical questions, and also putting his ministers on the spot to respond.

Namibia Media Trust (NMT) director Zoé Titus in her tribute to Geingob said it is essential to reflect on the late president’s profound commitment to press freedom, a cornerstone of his legacy which has positively shaped the media landscape in Namibia.

Titus said Geingob stuck to his promise of guaranteeing press freedom when he presided over the national commemoration of World Press Freedom Day in 2017.

“He remained true to his word, and was immensely proud of our country’s press freedom ranking as number one in Africa. President Geingob’s vision of a free and vibrant press was not merely a professional stance, but a reflection of his dedication to upholding democratic values,” she said.

Confidénte managing editor Max Hamata yesterday said Geingob had an open-door policy on one-on-one conversations with journalists.

“He also spoke about respecting the press. In a way, this drew attention to him as a champion of press freedom. In any case, by nature, Namibia is very friendly to journalists and the press.

“Maybe for Geingob, he built on what was already on the ground, and his legacy needs to be consolidated by his successor in this respect,” he said.

Veteran journalist and media lecturer Magreth Nunuhe said Geingob was open to criticism, and was ready to answer uncomfortable questions in the most controversial moments “even when surrounded by those in his circles who were uneasy about his level of transparency”.

She said Geingob was always open to engagement, marking a substantial shift in his professional relationship with the press.

“One of his greatest legacies will be the speed at which Namibia’s Access to Information Act of 2022 sailed through the parliament since it was tabled in 2020,” she said.

Political reporter at New Era Edward Mumbuu this week said while freedom of speech, press and thought is guaranteed in our Constitution, Geingob’s commitment and political will to ensure these rights are indeed respected cannot be taken lightly.

“It ensured that those in his government toed the same line, and by implication allowed journalists to practise their craft freely, without fear, favour or prejudice,” he said.

Mumbuu said although Geingob could have gone further to buttress these freedoms, one can only be grateful that the soon-to-be operationalised Access to Information Act was expedited during his tenure.

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