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Reporter fined for alleged biased reporting

(MISA/IFEX) - 16 June 2011 - The Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC)'s Rundu-based reporter Wilfred Nyambe was fined N$2000 (approx. US$295) by the Hambukushu Traditional Authority for allegedly reporting a biased story about the traditional authority.

According to a report by the "Namibia Newspaper" of 16 June 2011, "Chief Erwin Munika Mbambo, the leader of the Hambukushu Traditional Authority in the eastern Kavango region, ordered the NBC reporter to pay the fine on 9 June 2011 as punishment for a story broadcast on NBC Rukavango Radio Service in May 2011, about a resident of the Divava village, who was demanding that he get his land back from the Hambukushu Traditional Authority".

The Divava village resident, John Kashokora, said the land was unfairly expropriated by the traditional leadership. Chief Mbambo refused to speak to the NBC when he was approached to comment on the story.

Nyambe and the Regional Manager of the NBC Rukavango Service, Kosmas Muyenga, were summoned to the Chief's Palace for a traditional court hearing on 9 June 2011. During the hearing, Nyambe was ordered to pay the fine within a period of seven working days. During the traditional court proceedings, the Hambukushu chief, flanked by his senior headmen, ruled that the reporter was guilty because he failed to get the views of other people, such as the village headman. The traditional court further ruled that Nyambe also did not make an effort to obtain a comment from the Village Development Committee (VDC) and other residents of the village, who know more about the disputed piece of land. The chief said the reporter was supposed to put the story on hold, and to give the Hambukushu Traditional Authority enough time to carry out its own investigations into the matter. They claimed that Kashokora was an illegal occupant of that piece of land, and that he will never be compensated.

Nyambe told the Namibia Press Agency (NAMPA) on 15 June that he will not pay the fine because he was just doing his job, but has however forwarded the matter to the NBC editors at head office.

Meanwhile, Media Ombudsman Clement Daniels said although he does not have sufficient information on the case, freedom of expression, including that of the media, is guaranteed in the Namibian Constitution. Daniels explained that if the Traditional Authority or any other person has complaints about the media, they should report it to the Media Ombudsman, instead of criminalising the issue. He said this is the first case in the country where a reporter has been fined for biased reporting.

MISA condemns the action carried out by the Hambukushu Traditional Authority against Nyambe and calls on the Hambukushu chief and his headmen to familiarize themselves with the laws governing the operation of the media in Namibia. The media is not be suppressed based on traditional norms of a particular traditional authority. MISA has also noted that there is a practice by some traditional authorities in Namibia to suppress freedom of expression, especially in matters pertaining to the operation of traditional authorities.

This practice goes against the existing democratic principles as enshrined in the Namibian Constitution, and thus needs to end. We therefore call upon the traditional authority to make use of the existing Media Complaint Commission and the Media Ombudsman in order to find a solution to any complaints against the media. Everyone has the right to freedom of speech and as such, the Traditional Authority's opponent in the story aired by the NBC had the right to express himself as such. It was therefore the prerogative of the Traditional Authority to also express themselves in order to clear the confusion, an opportunity which the chief refused to take before the story was aired. We therefore remind the Hambukushu Traditional Authority that the opportunity is still open for them to give their side of the story through the national broadcaster.

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