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Election body implements government ban on advertising in independent newspaper

(MISA/IFEX) - The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) says it was dictated to by Government policy when it decided not to insert election information in Namibia's most widely read private daily newspaper, "The Namibian". Reacting to a report published in "The Namibian" on 7 September 2009, ECN Director Moses Ndjarakana claimed the newspaper was attempting to "hijack the electoral process and to subject the ECN to pay the ransom for the uplifting of a ban that was not instituted by the electoral body".

According to him, the ban on "The Namibian" was "cast in stone by politicians since 2000" through a Cabinet resolution that Government and its agencies cannot advertise in the newspaper or buy it.

"The Electoral Commission has got nothing to do with Cabinet Resolution to ban Government and its agencies from advertising in "The Namibian". The ECN as a fully funded agency of Government has not been advised otherwise," he said.

His response effectively meant that the ECN is not independent in its operations despite having claimed to be so in the past, "so much for free and fair," was "The Namibian" editor Gwen Lister's reaction to Ndjarakana's statement.

Lister said she had learned of the ECN insert, containing vital information to voters on supplementary registration, the afternoon before it was inserted into most local newspapers. She immediately made contact with the ECN to find out why "The Namibian" had been excluded. Lister spoke to Deputy Director Ananias Elago, who in turn referred her to other officers who either refused to talk or were said to be unavailable. The Chairperson of the ECN, Victor Tonchi, said he was not aware of the inserts, adding the Commission had not taken a resolution to exclude "The Namibian".

Lister took the trouble to mention to Tonchi that the Government ban on advertising in "The Namibian" was not the issue, but she was taking up the matter because she felt the 16-page pamphlet on supplementary registration was vital information to readers. She told Tonchi that the ECN, if they were concerned with reaching a majority of voters in the country, could have called all the newspapers and asked them to publish the said insert free of charge in the public interest and "The Namibian" would willingly have done so, as part of its social responsibility.

The ECN said "The Namibian", instead of reacting in the manner it did (with an article), should have shown benevolence in publishing the supplement free of charge.

"Their ('The Namibian''s) reaction seems to border on the need to generate revenue out of the ECN, more than national interest. The ECN's financial resource comes from Government and its utilization is therefore limited to what Government through treasury prescribes," Ndjarakana said.

Lister said it was a pity that Ndjarakana could not take her call but instead issued a statement which calls into question the impartiality and integrity of the ECN, which should be an independent body in order to serve the electorate to the best of its ability, and to ensure free and fair elections and equal access to information.

"It was in fact my suggestion that the ECN could have approached the media to insert the pamphlet free of charge, which would then have dealt with the question of the Cabinet resolution which prohibits paid advertisements," she said.

The ECN did not, however, have the foresight to do so, she said. "The intention behind the query was not to source revenue from Government but to ensure the readers of the newspaper are fully informed as voters," Lister said.


BACKGROUND:

"The Namibian" carried a story on 7 September 2009 in which the newspaper's editor, Gwen Lister complained over the ECN decision to sideline the paper in its election campaign. She said the move denied the readers crucial and important information. Three other daily newspapers, on 8 September 2009, carried a 16-page supplement on registration of voters for the presidential and National Assembly elections, but the ECN decided not to use "The Namibian" newspaper to get its message across.

The Namibian government banned its ministries and government agencies from buying "The Namibian" and advertising in it, stating the newspaper had taken an anti-government stance on the SWAPO-led government.

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