Freedom of the press and other media is enshrined in Article 21 (1) (a) the Namibian Constitution. Namibia ranks 18th out of 180 countries on the 2022 World Press Freedom Index compiled annually by Reporters without Borders.
Namibia improved its ranking on 2022 World Press Freedom Index from the 24th position in 2021 to the 18th position with an overall score of 81.84 – an improvement on the overall score of 80.28 in 2021. The country, however, lost its number one spot as the freest country in Africa in terms of media freedom to Namibia improved its ranking on 2022 World Press Freedom Index from the 24th position in 2021 to the 18th position with an overall score of 81.84 – an improvement on the overall score of 80.28 in 2021. The country, however, lost its number one spot as the freest country in Africa in terms of media freedom to Seychelles which was ranked 13th. South Africa occupies the third spot in Africa with a ranking of 35th.
Namibia Media Trust (NMT) Chairperson and veteran journalist Gwen Lister expressed the view that Namibia would have retained the number one spot if the long-awaited access to information law had been passed and if the government spoke out on global media freedom and rights-based issues.
ACCESS TO INFORMATION
The Access to Information Bill, which was reintroduced in the National Assembly in September 2021, is yet to be promulgated. Information and Communication Technology Minister Peya Mushelenga tabled the bill in the National Assembly in June 2020, but it was referred back for amendments following public consultations. The bill was, however,never passed as a result of restrictions of parliamentary sessions due to Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020.
The bill will, amongst others, give individuals a right to access information held by the government or a private entity if the information may assist in the exercise of protection of any fundamental right or freedom. The bill, however, also sets out instances in which public and private entities are permitted to refuse access to information requests under specific categories of justification. It also requires the president to appoint “an independent and impartial person as Information Commissioner to promote, monitor and protect the right of access to information in Namibia.”
WINDHOEK + 30 DECLARATION
Namibia hosted World Press Freedom Day on occasion of the 30th anniversary of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic Press. The event was attended by over 100 participants in the capital and followed by more than 3 000 virtual participants from over 150 countries from 29 April to 3 May 2021. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) subsequently endorsed the principles contained in the Windhoek+30 Declaration on Information as a Public Good at its 41st General Conference in November 2021. The declaration highlighted three key challenges: the economic viability of journalism, opacity of Internet companies, and the need to improve media and information literacy among citizens to foster informed engagement with digital communications issues.
PRINT UNDER PRESSURE
Newspapers operate is an environment free of statutory restrictions, except for a requirement to register with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology in terms of the Newspaper and Imprint Registration Act (Act 63 of 1971).
Declining circulation as more people resort to social media to access news, dwindling advertising revenues, rising printing costs and a sharp increase in the price of fuel continues to place the profitability of newspapers under severe pressure. Maintaining extensive newspaper distribution network over long distances has been hit adversely affected by the skyrocketing increases of fuel prices. Petrol prices increased by 55% between June 2021 and June 2022 while diesel prices increased by nearly 63% during the same period.
Readers continue, however, to have a choice of print editions of four daily (Monday to Friday) commercial newspapers in English, Afrikaans and German, a state-owned daily newspaper, an Oshiwambo weekly and a community newspaper published twice a week for the central coastal communities of Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Henties Bay. In addition to print editions, newspapers have also increasingly relied on Social media platforms and online editions to disseminate news to their followers. Several newspapers have, however, migrated from print to online editions only.
COMMUNICATIONS REGULATORY AUTHORITY OF NAMIBIA
Broadcasting services in Namibia are regulated by the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN) which has as its mandate the regulation, supervision and the promotion of the provision of telecommunication services, broadcasting and postal services. The authority is also responsible for the allocation and use of radio spectrum in Namibia. CRAN was established in terms of the Communications Act, No. 8 of 2009.
The CRAN announced in April 2022 that it is temporarily suspending the awarding of new telecommunication and broadcasting licences for the period 1 October 2022 to 30 September 2023. The authority said the suspension was necessitated by a study to determine the current market level of competition, market saturation and any existing barriers to entry.
The authority’s Chief Executive Officer, Emilia Nghikembua, said after preliminary research, “… it was determined that the envisaged market study on the telecommunication and broadcasting markets must be based on a fixed data set, particularly the number of Telecommunications and Broadcasting Service Licensees currently in the market. Therefore, it is apposite that CRAN maintain a still market, in terms of market players, while conducting the study.”
RADIO AND TELEVISION
With a reach of 80% of the population, the state-owned broadcaster, the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), dominates the electronic media in Namibia. Radio broadcasts are provided by the National Service, which broadcasts in English, and eight language services.
Radio listeners, however, continue to have a wide choice of commercial, community, online and religious radio stations servicing listeners with formats ranging from news, talk and sport to music and request programmes. Desert Radio, the radio station of The Namibian newspaper took to the air in November 2021. The station broadcasts news, information, documentaries and current affairs programmes.
The NBC also dominates the television media in terms of reach and the number of viewers. Namibia also has two private television stations that provide alternative news and programming to NBC, One Africa TV and Network Television. One Africa TV, the country’s first free- to-air commercial station was launched in 2004. Its programming includes, educational content, local and international news, sport and entertainment programmes. Network Television (NTV) was launched by Namibia Media Holdings (Pty) Ltd in February 2020. NTV broadcasts a variety of news and current affairs, educational, sports, youth, talk shows and entertainment programmes. MultiChoice Namibia offers two pay TV services: DStv, a digital satellite service and GOtv, a digital terrestrial service which provides affordable family entertainment.