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Namibian Govt Criticized for new Media Directive

An attempt by the Namibian government to stop what it called abuse by contributors on some telephone call-in programs has come under intense criticism. Opponents of the government have described the attempt as draconian and hitting at the heart of the country’s young democracy. Others have described the government’s new directive as an attempt at curbing critical debate on national issues.

It is also believed that central to the government’s action was the claim that some regular callers allegedly displayed a lack of respect for founding President Sam Nujoma.

But information minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah said the decision was aimed at stopping callers who were abusing the privilege of the call-in programs. From the capital Windhoek, she told VOA that some contributors’ comments were detrimental towards national unity and reconciliation.

“Any media house has editorial policies, and from the time of Namibia’s independence, the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) has programs which are called open lines where people can really express themselves as part of nation building. Remember we are reconciling and building this nation, and words of tribalism, hate or so are not allowed,” she noted.

Nandi-Ndaitwah said some of the contributors abused the programs.

“Unfortunately, in recent times, there have been people who have been abusing such programs whereby rally they are been insulting, they are really perpetuating tribalism and all these things which are not in line with the constitution of the Republic of Namibia... now because of that abuse, the board of NBC decided that now, the program would be reshaped,” Nandi-Ndaitwah said.

She denied that the new directive would stifle freedom of speech.

“That is not true because any critical issue that the people want to be discussed would be discussed in a format which is better organized. But not in the way of just being destructive, and not really contributing to the economic and the social development of the country,” she pointed out.

Nandi-Ndaitwah said some of the listeners of the programs were in favor of the new directive, which she believes would change the course of what the government believes to be destructive.

“In fact the people themselves feel that the program which was so constructive has become destructive. And then this is not the first time that a program has been made to be focused in stead of just to allow it,” she said.

Nandi-Ndaitwah rejected any comparison of the government’s new directive to the media policy of apartheid South Africa.

“What I’m telling you is that our government respects the constitution of the republic of Namibia to the latter, which allows the freedom of expression. But at the same time, the national interest is also underlined in that constitution that we have taken an oath to protect at all times,” she said.