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MISA condemns justice minister's outrageous remarks against newspaper and editor

(MISA/IFEX) - 6 October 2009 - The Namibian chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, MISA Namibia, strongly condemns the outrageous remarks by Justice Minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana calling the editor of "The Namibian" daily newspaper, Gwen Lister, a "big snake in Namibia".

Iivula-Ithana, who is Secretary General of SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organization), also warned Lister that if she is not careful about what she writes about SWAPO leaders and other Namibians, she will be taken to task for the wrongdoings committed by her white ancestors.

According to similar reports in two daily newspapers on 5 October 2009, Iivula-Ithana claimed that if there were to be a war in Namibia, it would be as a result of (reporting in) "The Namibian" and its editor, Gwen Lister, who is a white person and always writes bad things, especially about founding President Sam Nujoma when he attacks white people.

Iivula-Ithana also blames the newspaper for a host of alleged "wrong-doings". According to reports, Iivula-Ithana has labelled "The Namibian" as "a bad newspaper, reporting only on negative things like crimes, baby dumping and court cases, and never on positive things that are happening in the country".

Iivula-Ithana made the remarks while she was addressing a SWAPO Party rally at Omungwelume, in northern Namibia, on 3 October 2009. MISA Namibia is disappointed by the irresponsible manner in which the Minister has conducted herself, especially as it is her responsibility as Justice Minister to administer justice (through the courts of law) in a manner that reflects the values of a new and independent Namibia. Such values are, among others, those of tolerance, reconciliation, justice and free expression.

The statements made by the Minister are racist and frankly constitute hate speech likely to promote violence within the country. At the very least, Iivula-Ithana should be taken to task for her detestable and undignified behaviour.

MISA Namibia is mindful of the fact that politicians are on the campaign trail and that emotive public statements are being made in order to carry favour with the electorate. Notwithstanding this, it is pertinent to remind Minister Iivula-Ithana of her standing and responsibility not to bring the Office of the Minister of Justice into disrepute.

The Namibian Constitution calls for all citizens to be treated equally and respectfully. In addition, it should be understood by all Namibians that freedom of the media is enshrined in the Constitution in recognition of the important role it plays in building and sustaining our democracy. Thus, "The Namibian" newspaper has its place and space in our society and forms part of the diverse range of news sources available to Namibians.

MISA Namibia is particularly concerned over the continuing level of intolerance by supporters of political parties towards the media in the country. An apparent lack of understanding of the role of the media by the general public and some leaders persists. The media exists to tell the story as it is, without fear or favour.

The Media Ombudsman is a resource to persons who feel that they have been aggrieved by the media. MISA Namibia urges Namibians to make use of this channel for any grievances and complaints against the conduct of the media.

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