Courts dealing with defamation claims against the media should take into account the difficulties that journalists face in gathering and reporting news, the Namibian chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa Namibia) has commented in reaction to two High Court judgements in which local newspapers lost libel cases earlier this month, according to a report in The Namibian.
In two High Court decisions that are important for the evolution of the law of defamation as it applies to the media in Namibia, State-owned newspapers New Era and The Southern Times were ordered earlier this month to pay damages of N$50 000 and N$60 000 respectively to Deputy Minister Pohamba Shifeta and the Namibian branch of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God over stories that were published in these newspapers and which Shifeta and the church claimed were defamatory.
In a statement issued late last week, the National Director of Misa Namibia, Mathew Haikali, commented that ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œthese cases set a bad precedent in terms of what journalists and media organisations can faceÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
Haikali remarked that the media should be aware that they can be sued, be found to be in the wrong and suffer penalties, as happened in these two cases.
Misa Namibia does not encourage the use of the courts by those who feel aggrieved by media reporting, Haikali stated. The organisation instead believes that when reputations have been damaged by the media, it is an issue that should be addressed through mediation, Haikali commented.
He stated that Misa Namibia has continued to support the establishment of a voluntary mediation mechanism that is currently being driven by the Namibia Editors Forum, and which will have the power to call on journalists to correct, retract and apologise for any incorrect and false stories.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œMisa Namibia is of the view that the media rely on society in covering stories and that ultimately what comes out in the media is a reflection of what society is saying or doing,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Haikali remarked.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIn this regard, Misa Namibia appeals to the judiciary to take into consideration the challenges that journalists face in sourcing news, the competing interests in society and indeed the watchdog role that the media play in society.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIn the absence of the media, many things can go wrong in society without being exposed and if huge penalties are imposed on journalists, this has the effect of cowing the media into submission and self-censorship.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œOn the contrary, Misa Namibia maintains that the media should be encouraged and assisted in carrying out investigative work and reporting on matters that affect and impact on society, be it on religion, corruption, [or] others,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Haikali commented.
Click here to read the full report, posted on the Namibian's website.