Staff Writer

The presidency has reacted strongly to a statement issued by the Namibia Media Trust accusing government of undermining media freedom over its decision to hold virtual media briefings, with a handful of selected media outlets.

Presidential spokesperson, Alfredo Hengari, said government remained committed to media freedom and the measures taken were in line with guidelines on social distancing.

“To fight the propagation of COVID-19 in Namibia, and in compliance with the preventative guidelines of social distancing and avoidance of crowds in one place, the presidency elected, (logically that is) that the 1 April 2020 Presidential Update on COVID-19 would be largely virtual, and limited to the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), One Africa Television and the Namibia Press Agency (NAMPA).

“Moreover, the presidency carried a live-stream of the event on its social media pages, and Namibia Media Holdings shared facilities to reach a larger audience via its channels. In setting-up the format, and explaining the common-sense rationale for limited physical participation in the Presidential Update on COVID-19,” he said.

“The presidency has no intention to censor reporters, and President Geingob has vowed to defend press freedom. But, in the context of COVID-19, it is in the best interests of reporters and the health of Namibians to follow media briefings through virtual and digital platforms.

“It is why the report in The Namibian, ‘Media bemoan(s) exclusion from press briefing’ is frivolous about a grave matter in the form of a deadly virus, and the now globally accepted guidelines that ought to be practiced and respected by all if contagion is to be prevented.

“Disturbingly, going by the adage ‘do as I say and not as I do’, whilst alleging censorship regarding an event beamed live on national television and on national radio, and to which journalists of The Namibian posed questions to the President, the very same newspaper did not even seek commentary from the presidency in compiling its own report in which it makes baseless allegations about censorship and exclusion.”

Hengari said to avoid concerns of other media feeling discriminated, a rotational format will be introduced.

“The presidency assured reporters on its Whatsapp group that the format was not perfect, and might appear discriminatory – but that was not the intention. The presidency informed that a rotational format to deal with sentiments of inequity could be fleshed out with the Editors Forum to deal with some of the concerns raised. To save lives, the progressive media should embrace the push for a phased approach of virtual media briefings,” he said.

“The press is an important partner in nation-building and effective governance, and should play its critical role by providing Namibians with reports and analyses that further our collective fight against COVID-19. The presidency will take measures to protect journalists, including through virtual media briefings, and cautions against needless fights at a time when the nation needs to work together to defeat COVID-19,” he said.

Hengari further said other sections of the media had applauded the decision made by government regarding its press briefings.

“NBC is a public good, and the choice was to maximize broadcast and virtual access to the media briefing, whilst practicing social distancing, and avoiding contagion through crowding.

“It should be emphasized here that there are sections of the media that were fully appreciative of the decision by the presidency to limit physical participation and crowding of the briefing room. The presidency also requested NAMPA to share footage of the event, and was assured by NAMPA that media houses had access to NAMPA content as subscribers,” he said.

“The presidency, in addition to sharing all statements delivered by the president and ministers, invited reporters to reach out to line ministers with further questions. After all, President Geingob consistently encourages ministers and senior government officials to engage with the public and the media at all times, emphasizing that their mobile phones must be accessible and open for queries.”