The Editors’ Forum of Namibia (EFN) takes exception to the ever-increasing Government practice of allowing only State-owned media institutions to certain public engagements, especially since the declaration of the State of Emergency.

The EFN would like to state categorically that “no State of Emergency should serve as an excuse to exclude private media from any media conference or other public engagement”.

Although the EFN recognises that the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has undoubtedly forced news providers to employ innovative electronic ways of engaging the media, this cannot be done at the exclusion of other media especially privately run newspapers, radio and television stations.

The EFN would thus like to remind Government that it has an obligation to provide access to information to all Namibians, including the majority who do not have access to State owned television. The public must always be informed through a medium of their choice and not one forced onto them by Government.

The EFN is aware that the Ministry of Health and Social Services invited the media to a formal opening event yesterday (June 03) of a COVID-19 Isolation Unit at the Windhoek Central Hospital. This event was attended and officiated by the President, Dr Hage Geingob, and the Minister of Health Dr Kalumbi Shangula.

What transpired later, the barring of journalists from private media from reporting on the inspection of the facility by the President and the physical removal of Journalists Jemima Beukes (Namibian Sun) and Charmaine Ngatjiheue (The Namibian) by security officers, was unfortunate to say the least.

One would expect this type of approach from security officials in an authoritarian state, but certainly not in Namibia, which prides itself as a champion of democracy in Africa where the fourth estate can practice without fear or favour.

While accepting the apology by the Health Ministry about its “incomplete organisation” of the event, the EFN would like to point out that the Ministry and by extension Government, missed the point that all media, privately or State owned, needs to report on such events. Namibians and all those who reside in this country must have access to public information and it is best if reported on by all media private or public and not just state-owned media.

Whether called out in jest or to make a point, it is absolutely unacceptable to the EFN that any member of the security forces present would even consider asking or stating: “What if you got shot?” as they did to the two journalists, Beukes and Ngatjiheue, who insisted on covering the inspection of the facility yesterday.

“Too many times we have witnessed abuse of power during the COVID-19-related shut-down and this is just a manifestation of what seems to be a mind-set among people tasked to protect and not to threaten.”

The EFN at the same time urges its members to always maintain the moral high ground. It would be a sad day indeed if a serious and harmful incident would result from stubborn actions by journalists.

“While you are entitled to do your work, remain reasonable and do not provide indisciplined security personnel with an excuse – perceived or otherwise – to harm you. And as far as VIPs are concerned, please observe protocol as would be expected by any other law-abiding citizen”.

Issued at Windhoek by:
Frank Steffen, Chairperson
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Ronelle Rademeyer, Secretary-general
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