The African Media Barometer: Pointing To Future Challenges

The African Media Barometer: Pointing To Future Challenges

THE first phase of the Africa Media Barometer, a project of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and MISA, was launched in Windhoek last Friday. The barometer itself consists of four main sections, each detailing a specific area in which the media, and in particular the media environment, can be rated.

The sectors are based on the Windhoek Declaration on an Independent Press and the Declaration on Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (an AU declaration). The sectors covered include: * Freedom of expression within a country * The diversity, independence and sustainability of the media landscape * The independence or otherwise of the state broadcaster * The level of professionalism (including adherence to codes of ethics) amongst media workers.The panels discussing these areas were made up of media practitioners as well as members of civil society, and the panellists were given an opportunity to first discuss the areas before giving a specific rating.Namibia, being one of the first countries to be involved in the barometer, was, not surprisingly, ranked highly.Our Government has, from Independence, been committed to changing our media environment in two essential ways.Firstly, the draconian laws on censorship, banning and arrests of journalists, common under the South African regime, were removed.Indeed, this very newspaper was one of the prime targets of such legislated wrath during the 1980s in the run-up to Namibia’s Independence, and it is sobering to remember how recent it was in our history that such measures to restrict and hinder media freedom were in place.Secondly, Government has made considerable strides to open up the media to involve players other than the state.Gone are the days of a broadcasting monopoly as before Independence, where the only broadcaster available (television and radio) was the SWABC.Now we have a wide variety of stations, with a growth of both commercial and community outlets.Of course, we would wish for even greater diversity, especially when it comes to rural and marginalised communities, as well as language groups other than English and Afrikaans, but we should be praised as a country for having the tolerance to allow so many different voices to express themselves in so many different ways.Sectors where Namibia fared less well included the aspects of the independence of the state broadcaster, the NBC, and the professionalism and ethics of the media.Regarding the NBC it remains a concern that the strong Government control over this institution (still, especially NBC radio, a vital source of information for the majority of Namibians) shows no sign of diminishing.The Minister of Information and Broadcasting, as was the case before Independence, still directly appoints board members and the vast majority of funding for the Corporation emanates from Government coffers.With such a structure it would be unsurprising to find the programme output predominantly focused on Government activities.However, a public broadcaster needs to be more than that.The emphasis needs to be on the fact that the NBC is funded with public money (not Government money) and is a public broadcaster and not a State one.Until these aspects (ownership and funding) are dealt with, the Corporation will continue to lack credibility as an objective and representative source of information for the public good.Finally, the thorny issue of ethics and professionalism among local journalists is still, after 15 years of independence, little closer to resolution.Whether it is because of media jealousies (personal or professional), animosities between State and private media houses, or perhaps apathy and/or lack of time to deal with the issues, nevertheless it remains worrying that the code of ethics, while it exists, is in some cases not adhered to.Government spokespersons have on many occasions raised concerns that, being such a powerful institution in society, the media need to ensure high standards so as to protect the very readers, viewers and listeners they serve.Whether that be through the formation of a Media Council or another body, it nevertheless remains something that must to be a high priority for Namibian media owners during 2006.* Robin Tyson is a lecturer in Media Studies at the University of Namibia and Chairperson of MISA Namibia.The sectors covered include: * Freedom of expression within a country * The diversity, independence and sustainability of the media landscape * The independence or otherwise of the state broadcaster * The level of professionalism (including adherence to codes of ethics) amongst media workers.The panels discussing these areas were made up of media practitioners as well as members of civil society, and the panellists were given an opportunity to first discuss the areas before giving a specific rating.Namibia, being one of the first countries to be involved in the barometer, was, not surprisingly, ranked highly.Our Government has, from Independence, been committed to changing our media environment in two essential ways.Firstly, the draconian laws on censorship, banning and arrests of journalists, common under the South African regime, were removed. Indeed, this very newspaper was one of the prime targets of such legislated wrath during the 1980s in the run-up to Namibia’s Independence, and it is sobering to remember how recent it was in our history that such measures to restrict and hinder media freedom were in place.Secondly, Government has made considerable strides to open up the media to involve players other than the state.Gone are the days of a broadcasting monopoly as before Independence, where the only broadcaster available (television and radio) was the SWABC.Now we have a wide variety of stations, with a growth of both commercial and community outlets. Of course, we would wish for even greater diversity, especially when it comes to rural and marginalised communities, as well as language groups other than English and Afrikaans, but we should be praised as a country for having the tolerance to allow so many different voices to express themselves in so many different ways.Sectors where Namibia fared less well included the aspects of the independence of the state broadcaster, the NBC, and the professionalism and ethics of the media. Regarding the NBC it remains a concern that the strong Government control over this institution (still, especially NBC radio, a vital source of information for the majority of Namibians) shows no sign of diminishing.The Minister of Information and Broadcasting, as was the case before Independence, still directly appoints board members and the vast majority of funding for the Corporation emanates from Government coffers.With such a structure it would be unsurprising to find the programme output predominantly focused on Government activities. However, a public broadcaster needs to be more than that.The emphasis needs to be on the fact that the NBC is funded with public money (not Government money) and is a public broadcaster and not a State one.Until these aspects (ownership and funding) are dealt with, the Corporation will continue to lack credibility as an objective and representative source of information for the public good.Finally, the thorny issue of ethics and professionalism among local journalists is still, after 15 years of independence, little closer to resolution.Whether it is because of media jealousies (personal or professional), animosities between State and private media houses, or perhaps apathy and/or lack of time to deal with the issues, nevertheless it remains worrying that the code of ethics, while it exists, is in some cases not adhered to. Government spokespersons have on many occasions raised concerns that, being such a powerful institution in society, the media need to ensure high standards so as to protect the very readers, viewers and listeners they serve.Whether that be through the formation of a Media Council or another body, it nevertheless remains something that must to be a high priority for Namibian media owners during 2006.* Robin Tyson is a lecturer in Media Studies at the University of Namibia and Chairperson of MISA Namibia.

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