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Director-General of Namibian Broadcasting Corporation dismissed; MISA concerned over defamation cases facing media

(MISA/IFEX) - The following is a 5 February 2009 MISA press statement:

Dismissal of NBC Director General Bob Kandetu and issues at NBC
Concern over defamation cases against media

5 February 2009, Windhoek, Namibia

MISA expresses its concern on recent developments at the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) resulting in the dismissal of the Director General Bob V Kandetu. The dismissal of Kandetu follows internal professional issues, among others the controversy over the appearance of an opposition party flag after the President?s National address at the end of 2008.

The furore that followed this incident demonstrates the myriad of challenges facing the NBC in carrying out its mandate. The NBC, MISA notes, finds itself in this scenario because there are no clear guidelines, policies and laws that protect the NBC, from interference be it from political or commercial interests.

Media reports on the opposition flag debacle clearly show a broadcaster at war with itself. MISA therefore calls upon the Namibian government to start a process of transforming the NBC into a public broadcaster. The process of the transformation of the NBC into a public broadcaster should take into account the fact that all citizens own the NBC despite political, religious, social status, sexual or gender differences.

There is an urgent need to transform the NBC into a public broadcaster through an act of parliament that clearly states that the role of the NBC is to serve all citizens of Namibia in their diversity. This act of parliament should also clearly state the mandate of the NBC. This mandate should clearly spell out that the NBC's reporting and programming should aim to advance the socio-economic and political interests of all Namibians in their diversity.

The management and editorial (programming) independence of the NBC should be granted in law and mechanisms for accountability of the public broadcaster clearly spelt out in the same law. MISA's position is that the appointment of the NBC Board should also be provided in law and that these processes should involve members of the public as widely as possible.

The Board of the NBC should represent the wide sectoral interests of all Namibians and should be depoliticised. Equally such a board would have power to appoint senior staff on the basis of professional competence. The appointment and accountability of the Board should rest with a select parliamentary committee which should review its work on an annual basis and receive reports on how the NBC is meeting or failing to meet its public mandate.

We request that such policy changes be spearheaded by the Ministry of Information and Communication. The mandate of the NBC, we argue, should clearly state what is expected by Namibian citizens in a Charter that should form the basis of the functions of the NBC. The NBC should then be judged on the basis of how it is meeting expectations on the Charter.

The controversy that has led to the dismissal of the DG clearly shows that management, transparency and accountability systems at the NBC are in shambles and the loser in all this are citizens who pay for the sustenance of the NBC through license fees and taxes. The future of the NBC and its success in striving to be the leading communicator can only be met if its independence is guaranteed.

The cycle of firing and appointing new senior staff under the same unworkable structures will only create a vicious cycle that serves no one at the end of the day.

Defamation cases involving media

In the same vein MISA expresses concern over the high number of defamation cases that the media faces. At least four cases (Namib Times, New Era, The Southern Times and Informante) cases have gone against the media in the past few months. As MISA we are concerned that the huge financial demands that the media face will impact on the viability of the media.

Our fear is also that the use of defamation laws to seek redress from the media sets a dangerous precedent that has the effect of cowing the media into self censorship hence negatively impact on the practice of journalism. While agreeing that everyone in society has a right to approach the courts for redress and also that the media should always stick to high professional standards when reporting sensitive issues, we request that the powerful in our society, be it in the public or private sector exercise restraint and also seek mediation in addressing issues of concern.

Noting and respecting the independence of the judiciary as sacrosanct, MISA nevertheless request that the courts show leniency and also take into account the role that the media plays in enhancing democratic governance by watching over other centres of power. Media reporting is sometimes not always as easy as it appears as story gathering and writing involves many interests and individuals, some of whom are not in favour of certain information getting into the public arena.

In our view, the punitive measures imposed on the media in the four cases in 2008 and 2009 are huge and will impact on the viability of the media already suffering from low returns. In this regard, MISA calls upon the Namibian National Editors Forum to speed up the setting up of voluntary self regulatory structures that media consumers who feel offended by media reports can resort to. In consultation with other partners, MISA will seek ways to enhance journalistic skills and will be available to assist in any way possible to create an amicable relationship between the media and its consumers.

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