23 March 2001

Alert

Government slaps advertising ban on "The Namibian" newspaper


Incident details

newspaper(s)


(MISA/IFEX) - The Namibian government has slapped an advertising boycott on "The Namibian" newspaper, claiming the newspaper is too critical of its policies, the paper reported on Friday 23 March 2001.


According to the report, the decision to ban advertising was made at a cabinet meeting in December 2000 and some government departments have, as recently as this month, been reminded to heed the cabinet decision "with immediate effect", the paper reports.


Government representative Mocks Shivute confirmed the ban on Thursday 22 March, but said he had not seen a recent "action letter" indicating the ban was now operational.


The Namibian chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Namibia) reacted to the ban by saying it amounted to "economic sanctions" aimed at stifling freedom of the press.


"The Namibian" is in possession of copies of circulars from various ministries giving the go-ahead for the move. A copy of this circular was printed on the front page of "The Namibian" on Friday 23 March.


One of the circulars says the cabinet resolution "compels government ministries, offices and agencies to refrain from advertising in 'The Namibian' newspaper because of its anti-government stance and unwarranted criticism of government policies".


Asked to elaborate on the cabinet decision, Shivute said: "As I said, I don't know the discussions [that led to the ban] but one of the issues could be the position of 'The Namibian' with regard to when it covers government activities.


"At times 'The Namibian' functions as if it is the official opposition. They ['The Namibian'] don't see any good in the government ... This might have offended the politicians [for them] to take such a decision," said Shivute.


Shivute said the ban related only to advertising and would not stop government departments from buying the newspaper. It is not clear whether government leaders are also prohibited from
reading Namibia's largest newspaper.


Although Shivute did not state the motive for the ban, it appears to be aimed at throttling "The Namibian" financially. Government is the single biggest advertising client in the country.


Gwen Lister, editor of "The Namibian", said the boycott was a "sad reminder of the days of Apartheid," when the South African government refused to advertise in the newspaper, and even forced private businesses not to advertise. "I didn't think I would live to see this in a democratic Namibia," said Lister.


"I would dispute to the death that we are anti-government. We fought for people to [have] a government of their choice. We also fought for press freedom. If our "crime" is being critical, then so be it.


"Yes, we are critical where and when necessary, and we should just live with that," she said.


MISA-Namibia said: "If it is a policy decision ... it is a clear signal that freedom of speech in Namibia ... is in grave danger."


MISA-Namibia said that although the decision has not been made public it "resurrects macabre echoes from the 1980s when the South African government banned critical reports and imposed economic sanctions against certain newspapers".


MISA-Namibia also stated: "This action effectively bans opinions that dissent from those held by the ruling party. It in no uncertain terms issues a message that dissenting opinion will be punished, as in this case, by economic sanctions."


Shivute said government would use other newspapers to advertise, ignoring the fact that "The Namibian" has the highest circulation figures in the country.


"The Namibian" has grown from an average circulation of 9,000 in 1996 to 23,000 this month, based on sales figures for Fridays. Readership surveys have estimated that up to seventeen people read one copy of the newspaper in northern Namibia.

Background Information


The ban follows a call from Swapo Youth League leader Paulus Kapia in November 2000 for government to stop advertising in "The Namibian" and for Swapo supporters to stop reading the newspaper (see IFEX alerts of 9 and 7 November 2000).


From time to time, the government has expressed its dissatisfaction with what it perceives as critical reporting in "The Namibian".


Prime Minister Hage Geingob has accused some media organisations, which he did not name, of tarnishing the country's image abroad through their reports.


In February, Minister of Mines and Energy Jesaya Nyamu refused to grant an interview to "The Namibian" on the diamond mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was after he had made the revelation to "Die Republikein 2000", which until last year had aligned itself with the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), the party Swapo loves to remind of its links to the Apartheid regime.


A similar boycott was instituted against the "Windhoek Advertiser" several years ago. At the time a report in the "Windhoek Advertiser" had falsely accused President Sam Nujoma of being involved in illicit diamond deals. The newspaper was forced to apologise. It later collapsed due to a lack of revenue.


(Source: The Namibian, 23 March 2001)


The following is a MISA statement:


The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) regrets the decision of the Namibian government to withhold advertising to The Namibian newspaper. The Namibian, as an independent newspaper, plays a critical role in providing an alternative analysis of events in the country. At the same time, the role of the independent press is widely recognised as being essential to the enhancement of the democratic and nation-building processes.


Recent utterances by ruling party officials calling for Government to stop advertising in The Namibian proves that this recent move is politically motivated and aimed at crippling The Namibian financially.


MISA believes that it is unreasonable for a public institution that is funded by those who pay taxes, including The Namibian and its staff, to withhold advertising from any media institution. Government resources come from citizens with diverse political views and inclinations. As such, a political decision to declare an advertising ban on any media institution is unjust.


The sustainability of media is essential for the existence and promotion of an independent press, which is crucial for providing diverse information. As such, Government, being a stakeholder in the democratisation process, should support the media industry to become a vibrant and sustainable industry. Therefore the decision of Government to deny advertising (i.e. financial support) to any independent newspaper that provides an alternative view is regrettable and a form of indirect censorship.


We appeal to the government of Namibia to review its position which is in conflict with provisions in the Africa Charter which upholds media freedom and the free flow of information. Furthermore, as the seat of the Windhoek Declaration signed here in Windhoek in 1991 and which, among others, campaigns for the establishment of an independent, pluralistic and free press, the Namibian government is duty-bound to ensure the upholding of these lofty objectives.


This government action generates bad publicity and takes place on the eve of the soon-to-be celebrated 10th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration. Paradoxically the Namibian government is a key player in the organising of the event.


Luckson Chipare

Regional Director




Source

Media Institute of Southern Africa
21 Johann Albrecht Street
Private Bag 13386
Windhoek
Namibia
misaalerts (@) gmail.com
Fax:+264 61 248016
Namibia
 
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