Namibia: Mass media

Extracted from: Lesley Blaauw & Sydney Letsholo 2009 "Chapter 10: Namibia" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg, 358-359.

A significant level of media freedom has existed in Namibia since independence. Writing on Namibia, Keulder has argued that that there would be no need for a free press if there were not a need for alternative information to help people overcome the effects of the tendency of government information services to censor and slant news (Keulder 2002). Independent newspapers in Namibia, as listed in the paragraph below, are playing a fundamental role as a source of alternative information to the general public.

Some of the current leading players in the domain of independent media are: the Allgemeine Zeitung, which has been in existence since 1919, and which targets the small readership of the small number of German-speaking Namibians. The Republikein Newspaper - an Afrikaans daily founded in 1977 - was initially the mouthpiece of the Republican Party and later of the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA). The Windhoek Observer was established in 1978. One of the most critical-of-government daily papers in Namibia is The Namibian newspaper. Since its inception in 1985 until independence in 1990, this newspaper was at the forefront of chronicling detentions and other human rights violations by the colonial authorities in Namibia. Insight Namibia came into existence in 2004 as a monthly current affairs magazine based on the principle of investigative reporting (Hopwood 2006). While these newspapers have different origins, they are viewed as invaluable in the fight against corruption.

With this range of non-government print media in existence, it is, therefore, not surprising that the government views newspapers as the first line of attack in an attempt to regulate the free flow of information. It is this suspicion that resulted in the Namibian government's decision in late 2000 to withdraw advertising from the privately owned newspaper, The Namibian, for all government offices. This was because of allegedly 'critical and unpatriotic' reporting by The Namibian (Misa 2000). The continued activism of the independent media has remained an important antidote to the hegemonic political tendencies of the ruling elite in Namibia. This role is particularly important in the Namibian context, where government itself has a large stake in the media field - in particular through its ownership and control of the national broadcaster - the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). Although Table 4 notes that 50 per cent of the public 'always trusts' the NBC, the figure of 35 per cent who 'always' trust newspapers is significant and indicates the importance of the print media as a source of information to the public. The proposal mooted in 2007 to have a media council under government control illustrates an acute awareness on the side of the ruling party of the impact that the print media in Namibia has on public trust (Freedom House 2008). This suggests that the print media in Namibia has not only ensured that information remains a source of power and in the public domain, but that it has also played a catalytic role in making public institutions more accountable, transparent and responsive to the public will.

Table 4: Public trust in the media (percentages of respondents)

Never trust Sometimes trust Most times trust Always trust Have not heard enough Totals
NBC 2 10 30 55 3 100
Newspapers 4 17 28 35 16 100

Table source: Keulder 2002.

Community media is another important segment of the independent media, and it has contributed significantly to the public availability of information. However, Hopwood (206, 101) has noted that the several attempts to penetrate this niche arena have not been fully realized. This is in part due to the fact that the coverage of the six community radio stations in existence since 2005 remains rather limited. Notwithstanding their limited coverage, community media is an important instrument for vulnerable communities and are playing a critical role in spreading news on HIV/Aids, reproductive health and other issues of interests to the community.

For the 2004 elections, TV programmes and adverts on elections were prepared and broadcast through NBC TV and One Africa Television and through the Twilight Company, through TV sets in public places such as banks, post offices, municipalities' offices and in some government ministries and departments. Local independent newspapers such as The Namibian, Republikein, and Windhoek Observer and local magazines such as The African and the Big Issue also played a useful role in ensuring public awareness of the elections (ECN 2005).

Media coverage

Extracted from: Lesley Blaauw & Sydney Letsholo 2009 "Chapter 10: Namibia" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg, 371-372.

Over the years the media in Namibia has continued to operate in an environment essentially free of government or ruling party interference. The Communication Commission Act decrees that 60 per cent of free public service campaign coverage on radio and television be divided proportionally as per party representation in the National Assembly. The Act further states that the remaining 40 per cent should be shared equally between all parties contesting the elections. For the 2004 presidential and National Assembly elections, this translated into 150 minutes being given to Swapo, 31 minutes to the CoD, 30 minutes to the DTA, 19 to the UDF, and each of the smaller parties receiving 13 minutes of airtime on the state-owned Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) for the whole campaign period (Du Pisani & Lindeke 2009, 12). However, parties like Swanu, which had no representation at all in the National Assembly, were also give seven minutes airtime. In 1999, the COD protested against the principle through which free broadcast time was distributed between parties. The party complained that it would only be allocated three four-minute "slots because the system favoured parties who were already enjoying parliamentary representation" (Du Pisani & Lindeke 2009, 12; Lodge 2000).

The media played a much more active role in the 2004 elections. To counteract criticism levelled against it for its bias towards the ruling party, the NBC established a new formula for covering the campaigns of the different parties. According to that formula, 60 per cent of the air-time to political parties would be divided according to a proportional system basis for all parties represented in the National Assembly. The remaining 40 per cent had to be shared by all participating political parties equally. What this meant was the ruling party Swapo was allocated 150 minutes, the COD 31 minutes, 30 minutes were allocated to the DTA, and 19 minutes to the UDF. Other parties represented in the National Assembly such as the RP, the Namibia Movement for Democratic Change (NMDC), the South West Africa National Union (Swanu), all received 13 minutes air-time (Kaapama 2004, 107-108).

The monitoring of media coverage of the campaigns of the different political parties during 2004 was done by Misa-Namibia, the national chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) in Namibia. Misa-Namibia commissioned the IPPR and Mediatenor, a South African-based media monitoring company, to conduct the campaign monitoring process. Their research concluded that in both the print and broadcast media, the ruling party received 43 per cent of the coverage alone, while the opposition parties jointly received 57 per cent (Kaapama 2004, 107-108). Du Pisani and Lindeke concluded that the campaigns of the opposition were redundant because, for Swapo: "Independence, peace, a functioning democracy, a mixed economy and reconciliation make for a powerful template of factors that constrain and close political space for opposition parties" (Du Pisani & Lindeke 2009, 13).

News websites

Die Republikein [www] http://www.republikein.com.na/ [Afrikaans; opens new window] (accessed 30 Mar 2010).

Namibia Economist [www] http://www.economist.com.na/ [English; opens new window] (accessed 30 Mar 2010).]

Namibian [www] http://www.namibian.com.na/ [English; opens new window] (accessed 30 Mar 2010).]

References

DU PISANI, A & LINDEKE, B 2009 "Political Party Life in Namibia: Dominant Party with Democratic Consolidation", IPPR Briefing Paper No 44, Windhoek.

ELECTORAL COMMISSION OF NAMIBIA (ECN) 2005 Presidential and National Assembly Election Report 2004, Windhoek, ECN.

KAAPAMA, P 2004 'Preconditions for free and fair elections: A Namibian country study" IN Minnie, J (ed) Outside the Ballot Box: Preconditions for Elections in Southern Africa 2004/5, Windhoek, Media Institute of Southern Africa.

HOPWOOD, G 2006 Guide to Namibian Politics, Including A to Z of Political Personalities, Windhoek, Namibian Institute for Democracy.

KEULDER, C 2002 Public Opinion and the Consolidation of Democracy in Namibia, Afrobarometer Paper No 15, Cape Town, Idasa.

LODGE, T 2000 "Heavy-handed democracy: SWAPO's victory in Namibia", Southern African Report 15(2).

MEDIA INSTITUTE OF SOUTHERN AFRICA (MISA) 2000 So This is Democracy? State of the Media in Southern Africa, Windhoek, Misa.

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