A recent announcement by Government heralding its plans to establish a
council meant to regulate the Namibian media has sparked an outcry from
some quarters of society, particularly journalists themselves, writes Kakunawe Shinana in The Namibian.

It is generally viewed as an attempt by Government to control the media, and as militating against the spirit of the Constitution.

The announcement, made by then former Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, stems from the Swapo Party's 4th congress, which claimed "misuse of media contrary to national reconciliation and maintenance of peace and stability".

Nandi-Ndaitwah insisted that such a council would "assist the media to provide quality services to the people".

Justifying Government move, she accused the media of dragging its feet and failing to get self-regulation off the ground.

With the consequences of government muzzling of the media evident in countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe – where independent media have effectively been silenced and where freedom of the press is threatened and in some cases is non-existent – it is hardly surprising that most Namibian media practitioners feel that a Government-imposed media council would result in the death of media freedom in a country where privately-owned media dominate both print and broadcasting.

The Namibian spoke to the editors of some media houses to find out their views about the establishment of the council.

Eberhard Hofmann, Editor of the German newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung, says he feels it is not for the Government to set up a media council.

"A media council should be established by the media for the media, if they so decide in their own time and with thorough consultation with other stakeholders of democracy.

It cannot be a top-down process dictated by any other institution," he said.

Namibian Sun Editor Tabby Moyo agreed that the responsibility of setting up such a regulatory body should be left to the media themselves.

"The media have the responsibility to inform the Namibian population, and surely this responsibility should be carried out within the boundaries of ethics agreed to by the player in the media industry themselves," Moyo said.

"Government's plan to establish a media council is indeed worrying and one wonders why this push is coming at this stage.

While I acknowledge the need for a body to regulate media operations in the country, in any country for that matter, I don't think Government should be the force behind such an initiative," Moyo said.

'A BIG NO-NO' The Namibian's Editor, Gwen Lister, had this to say: "It's a big no-no.

This is not the preserve of Government but of the media themselves, if there is to be regulation it should be self-regulation by the media in conjunction with the civil society.

"Government needs to manage its own affairs rather than meddle in the business of the media.

This is the time when we need to strengthen our democracy and our Bill of Rights and not erode them.

African governments need to nurture and provide a level playing field for media, particularly independent media, to flourish and grow, rather than the contrary," Lister said.

Click here to read the full report, posted on allafrica.com.