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Namibian media and the political agenda of succession

By Dr. Elijah Ngurare
An ordinary voter can be forgiven for thinking that the government with its three branches (executive, judiciary and legislative) is the power within itself.

In theory government is accountable to the electorate but in practice is accountable to some other hand.

There is an invincible hand, which draws agenda for public discourse through the construction images, meant either to draw sympathy or evoke anger of the public. The sympathy or anger of the public will then have to gravitate towards the constructed agenda. And it is the hand that politicians know only too well, the media, and thus many of them try their best to keep it closer.

Scholars of journalism usually speak about "News manipulation." It has been said that the methods of manipulation are subtle and many and in most cases those being manipulated may not be aware of this. Thus recently when Members of Parliament lambasted state media notably NBC and New Era, it is in regards to the above. However, what was not spelled out by MPs is that State Media is favouring some leaders of choice and presumably not objectively covering all MPs.

Indeed, nearly every news media in Namibia has its own slogan from "telling it like it is" to "you conceal we reveal" and or "your better companion" etc. Whether they live up to the label of their slogan or not, experience has shown that in most cases they have not been unblemished to cast a first stone.

Every politician buys these newspapers and often religiously believes in things that appear in them more than what appears in the Party Constitution. Since the most talked about succession in the ruling party, and although hypocritically some want to bury their heads in the sand to deny that there is no such thing, our collective psyche tells us what the truth is. It is also a futile exercise to wish to regulate the opinions of human beings in a free and democratic dispensation. This because the educated citizenry is easy to govern but difficult to enslave because it is able discern for itself the agendas of the various media outlets too.

In 2004, the then campaign manager of a presidential candidate was given the post of Director General of the NBC. In a manner of a dejavu so too it seems today that a person perceived to be an ardent supporter of a potential or presumed presidential candidate has been given the same position. I use the word "given" very deliberately. Because in the present case, it was said that the Editor of Namibia Today could not contest the position because he was considered as "being too SWAPO".

The NBC today is being run in what we are manipulated to believe as "professional". What is professional about changing the television news bulletin to favour the portfolio or a specific presumed candidate? What is professional" about ensuring that even in Parliamentary reports the "camera politics" dictate on whom to focus the camera and whom to ignore or when reporters are embedded for a particular cause? Under a smokescreen of streamlining the public broadcaster it started with a restructuring process and when carefully evaluated the process then scale again tilted toward a presumed presidential candidate. The process is still not completed and the NBC bosses will againapproach government to use taxpayers' money to ensure that the "stumbling blocks" will be removed.

On their part New Era and Windhoek Observer have run negative stories about "some presumed rival candidates" but conveniently shower praise about their "preferred candidate". The Editors of these papers have made no secret where their loyalties lie. The Windhoek Observer is projected to seem as owned by SWAPO cadres, rightly so, yet they appointed an editor from SWANU and it is he who writes regularly about SWAPO issues.

Even the independent media is no exception when it comes to the succession issue. Let us take my brother Alfredo Hengari who writes for The Namibian newspaper. What exactly is it that he has against the President and Prime Minister that he does not have with other people who may be his "favourites"? The Namibian newspaper may claim to be independent from this columnist but not all readers can make the distinction.

Further, the perception, wrongly or rightly, is there that some smses or letters published therein are originating from within the paper and not all necessarily the public inputs as we are meant to believe. It is also observed that when a wrong perception by an sms which appears to be harmful to the newspaper, that perception will be corrected, but a wrong perception in favour of the agenda of newspaper will be allowed to serve its purpose.

The Villager is a relatively new newspaper but it will be laughable to pretend that it is objective and has no agenda it pursues not least on the succession politics. It writes negatively about others but never about the specks in the eyes of its owners. It is so glaringly clear who its preferred candidate is.

Namibia Today is the only SWAPO Party newspaper, and for that very few advertize in it. Ironically, some within the ruling Party have a particular aversion for the paper. It is not clear whether it has got to do with its stance on succession or not. The DMH newspapers always boasted about their independent reporting. Recently it has been reported that Jan Poolman must make room for a "black editor" at the Namibian Sun, but however hard the DMH bosses want us to believe, the perception is there that they too are close to some preferred candidates in the SWAPO race.

The question is where will it end? The Constitution provides for media freedom but in desperate times it might be "just a piece of paper" to be set aside by desperate presidential hopefuls and their media friends.





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