Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Status change explanation: Namibia declined from Free to Partly Free to reflect the government’s increased negative rhetoric toward the press and biased coverage in favor of the ruling party surrounding the November 2009 elections.
- Press freedom in Namibia worsened in 2009 as a result of growing government influence and pressure on the media. The ruling South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) party and government officials displayed increased intolerance of media criticism, leading to the suspension of and subsequent restrictions on popular call-in radio shows. In addition, coverage of November’s presidential and parliamentary elections by the state-owned Namibian Broadcast Corporation (NBC) was heavily biased toward the ruling party.
- The constitution guarantees freedoms of speech and the press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. However, government pressure has led to some self-censorship.
- Under the Communication Act of 2009, the Communication Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN) was established to oversee licensing, frequency allocation, and competition in the telecommunications and broadcast sectors. It is also tasked with “establishing telecommunications data interception centers,” according to the U.S. State Department.
- On a positive note, in August, the Editor’s Forum of Namibia created a media ombudsman office headed by Clement Daniels, a human rights lawyer. The ombudsman is to receive and settle complaints made by the public against the media.
- The NBC banned all chat and call-in radio programs in March 2009 after leading members of the ruling party objected to alleged insults against current president Hifikepunye Pohamba and former president Sam Nujoma. The shows that replaced the canceled programs have a far more restrictive format, with just one hour of airtime a day and tighter screening of listener calls. The government continued to monitor the new programming throughout the year.
- SWAPO also urged the Namibian, an independent daily, to stop printing reader text messages that allegedly insulted party leaders. In October, Justice Minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana publicly labeled the paper’s editor, Gwen Lister, “a big snake.” According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the minister warned that Lister would be held responsible for the wrongdoings of her white ancestors if she was not more careful about the paper’s reporting on SWAPO leaders. Since 2001, the government has banned ministries and departments from advertising in the paper or purchasing it with state funds.
- In July 2009, the National Assembly adopted a controversial Information and Communication Bill that allows the interception of e-mail, telephone calls, mobile-phone text messages, and internet banking transactions. Opposition parties and press freedom advocates argued that the bill did not include adequate oversight mechanisms to prevent abuse by government officials. The government countered that such mechanisms were included and that no “right” to interception was granted. The National Council approved the measure in September, and it became law in November.
- There are currently three independent dailies and four independent weeklies, with a handful of other papers owned by the state or ruling party. There are at least 12 private radio stations, two community radio stations, and one private television station, One Africa TV. SWAPO holds a majority stake in Namibia’s only satellite television provider.
- In November 2009, shortly before the elections, the NBC cancelled its policy of granting free airtime to political parties for election broadcasts; 40 percent of the airtime had been allocated equally among parties, with the other 60 percent allocated according to their share in the previous elections. The policy was cancelled after two opposition parties appealed for an equal airtime allocation before the High Court. Opposition parties and press freedom organizations accused the NBC of heavily pro-SWAPO coverage during the election campaign.
- Nearly 6 percent of Namibians have access to the internet. Though there are no official restrictions on access, the new legislation enacted in November allows intelligence services to monitor e-mail and internet usage.