Ovambanderu Traditional Council loses case against NBC

Aletha Nguvauva

The media ombudsman has ruled in favour of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation’s (NBC) decision not to use the title Ombara Otjitambi (Otjiherero for paramount chief) for Ovambanderu Traditional Council (OTC) leader Aletha Nguvauva.

This follows on the NBC appealing against a 2022 ruling by the media ombudsman for the state broadcaster to allow followers of Nguvauva to address her by the traditional title, Ombara Otjitambi, on the broadcaster’s platforms.

The OTC in 2022 lodged a complaint alleging that NBC’s Omurari radio station presenters and hosts were censored and instructed not to use the traditional title for Nguvauva.

The OTC argued that this decision infringed on their rights, including freedom of expression and the right to self-identify according to their customs.

The OTC claimed that NBC employees were directed to edit out any references to Ombara Otjitambi when referring to their leader.
The issue stems from the fact that the government does not yet officially recognise Nguvauva as a designated chief.

In a ruling on Wednesday last week, the media ombudsman appeal committee consisting of chairperson André le Roux, Ernst Venzke and Hesron Kapanga noted that while traditional authorities may use any titles they prefer within their community, it is not obligatory for others to use these titles.

“If NBC’s style guide and editorial policies comply with Namibian laws, they can direct NBC employees’ actions and decisions. The NBC is not obligated to use the traditional title Ombara Otjitambi for Nguvauva,” Le Roux said.

The panel noted that Namibian law permits communities to recognise and appoint traditional authorities and use traditional titles as per section 1 of the Traditional Authorities Act.

NBC spokesperson Nico Mwiya yesterday welcomed the panel’s decision.

“As NBC, we are thrilled and feel thoroughly vindicated,” Mwiya said.

In their argument, the NBC acknowledged the legal recognition of traditional titles as preferred by communities under the Traditional Authorities Act. However, NBC argued that using traditional titles for leaders not recognised by the act could interfere with the duties and status of officially recognised traditional leaders.

NBC further maintained that it adhered to its internal style guide and editorial policies to maintain consistency and accuracy in its broadcasts, although these documents were not available for the panel to review.

Nguvauva and other representatives of the OTC could not be reached for comment at the time of going to print.

The OTC, when lodging the complaint in 2022, noted that the national broadcaster has no right to dictate how the community should address its leadership, maintaining that the Traditional Authorities Act does not say a leader cannot be addressed the way they want because they are not recognised or designated. Moreover, the OTC noted that the act governing NBC does not preclude it from addressing traditional leaders in terms of how their community addresses them.

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