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"Informanté" editor resigns following threats

(MISA/IFEX) - Max Hamata, editor of the weekly tabloid "Informanté", has resigned following pressure after publishing a recent story about former president Sam Nujoma's alleged ill health. He was summoned to explain the merits of the story to the Trustco executive committee.

According to a report from the "Namibia" newspaper on 18 November 2010, Trustco Group MD Quinton van Rooyen - the owner of the paper - on 16 November said he and the executive committee considered the story about Nujoma's allegedly worsening prostate cancer to be "malicious". As a result, Hamata would have been called to provide explanations about the report that the newspaper ran on 4 November.

Van Rooyen said Hamata was told to bring along someone to represent him "as there could be disciplinary consequences".

Meanwhile, the Trustco Group refuted allegations that they fired Hamata. Instead, in a 17 November press statement, Trustco spokesperson Neville Basson claimed that Hamata had resigned. Hamata will, however, continue to edit the tabloid until 31 January 2011.

"Informanté" and Hamata have been overwhelmed with threats following the 4 November article. The newspaper reported that former president Nujoma was flown from Windhoek to Cape Town, allegedly for treatment for prostate cancer. The report was also prompted by Nujoma's failure to attend two SWAPO party rallies that he was scheduled to address in northern Namibia, ahead of the Regional and Local Authority Elections.

The article was received with mixed reactions by Nujoma's medical doctor, lawyers and supporters. A local media report last week also quoted the special assistant to Nujoma, John Nauta, labelling Hamata as a "witch". In addition, numerous callers to national radio phone-in programmes have labelled the "Informanté" report as blasphemous. A letter was also sent to the newspaper by the Nujoma's lawyers, Namandje & Co. Inc, instructing the tabloid to retract the article and issue an unconditional apology; failure to do so would result in legal action.

MISA expresses grave concern over the alleged threats to Hamata's safety and that of his staff and family, and advises Nujoma to ensure all grievances relating to the editorial conduct of the media are settled in the most amicable manner, preferably using the route of the Namibian Media Ombudsman and the Media Complaints Commission.

Furthermore, MISA is cognizant of the overall responsibility of the media to scrutinise every issue relating to public figures in the interest of the public. MISA notes that the health of Nujoma remains a matter of public concern and should "Informanté" have credible information related to this it would be serving its role as a conduit of information to the public on matters of national importance, albeit in a professional manner in line with the basic tenets of ethical journalism.

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