Landless People’s Movement leader Bernadus Swartbooi has taken a dig at some local media houses, where media ethics have seemingly been thrown out of the window.
According to the firebrand politician, journalists and media houses are on a crusade to impose certain political views and politicians onto Namibians as darlings, while others are presented in a bad light.
Both are done for political expediency, he charged. Swartbooi said this at a press conference in the capital last week. The presser covered a buffet of issues, including media ethics, exploitation of journalists on the basis of their skin colour, President Hage Geingob’s recent comparison of the apartheid era to the genocide that sought to wipe the Nama and Ovaharero off the face of the earth, and the need to protect the ‘boy child’. At the onset, he took on the media.
Seemingly taking a jibe at another opposition party, Swartbooi said: “There is a political party that has a diarrhoea of motions, I may want to call it that, in the absence of a better word. It’s like a girlfriend waiting for gossip about the boyfriend,
and when the boyfriend comes home, this girlfriend has so many stories to ask the boyfriend, and this poor fellow has no clue what was going on.”
“They take newspapers, convert the newspaper articles into questions, and pretend that they are working. And then the very newspapers are the ones that are covering those items as though they are very newsworthy; a very strange and very convoluted relationship.”
The orange army’s captain was not done.
“In fact, we are told that some journalists actually are writing questions for some Members of Parliament, structuring them word by word, paragraph by paragraph. Then, when these members of parliament have to come and table these motions, those very journalists are in attendance.
“They would never come to our press conference, but they are in attendance, pushing around others, taking pictures about this MP who is now asking an important question, because it’s actually the journalist’s question that is being asked, and the
journalist has a silent moment of fame and honour, and is on a victory lap.
“Then this journalist, after having drafted the question, after having given it, after listening to it, goes and reports about their own work through the mouthpiece [MP]. This is very bad. This is unethical of some of the journalists who are doing these types of things,” Swartbooi claimed.
He furthermore stated that politicians masquerading as journalists must stop hiding behind the notebook and pen, and enter the political arena as full-blown politicians.
“Leaders who are elected must be able to generate ideas. And if the media is in the game of creating false heroes, creating a false sense of knowledge and competence and consciousness about individual members of parliament or about certain political parties, you are robbing society.”
He then turned to the issue of the abuse and exploitation of journalists by some
media houses. “There was an editor who retired some years back, and they would talk about equity and how they fought for freedom, and how they fought for equality and stood against discrimination. Only for us to discover that, hold on, some journalists on the basis of the colour of their skin are paid less at your paper, and others are paid more because of the colour of their skin. Where is the equality now? Where is the transparency now?” Swartbooi asked rhetorically without disclosing the name of the former editor.
Some of his sentiments seemingly reverberated through Jemima Beukes, the acting secretary general of the Namibia Media Professionals Union (Nampu).
“Journalists are extremely underpaid and abused, especially foreign nationals, who are exploited as cheap labour and threatened not only by politicians, but also by some seniors that they will use their connections to political leaders to make matters difficult for foreign journalists who report critically.
“Then we have a mountain heap of sexual harassment in newsrooms, with interns and junior reporters exploited with the promise of permanent employment. There is the underpayment of journalists that not only pushes out journalists to public relations (PR), but poses a serious threat to democracy and press freedom as it tempts journalists with brown envelopes. At some leading newspapers, journalists and media workers reported that they are working without contracts for years now. Nampu, without registration, is unfortunately unable to effectively intervene, except to write letters of demand,” she said, bringing to the fore hardships confronting journalists daily. Beukes continued: “Journalists, already grappling with low wages, have been
subjected to further abuse. Such actions undermine the principles of a free and independent press. This exploitative environment not only harms individuals, but tarnishes the integrity of the journalism profession.” Due to bureaucratic bottlenecks amid other reasons, Nampu is at the culminating stages of its registration as a fully-fledged trade union, almost three years since it was launched.
On his part, The Namibian’s editor-in-chief Tangeni Amupadhi said measures are in place to ensure issues of conflict of interest are averted and detected.
“The Namibian takes active steps to ensure that conflict of interests is managed to journalistic ethics, and what we expect of others. For instance, journalists who are close to individuals or institutions are not only asked to declare potential conflicts, but also told to avoid working on such matters. We appreciate any input to improve our work,” he added.
For veteran journalist Tileni Mongudhi, a symbiotic relationship exists between journalists, their sources and politicians or any other newsmakers.
According to him, there is no harm with journalists sharing information with politicians, for as long as it is in good faith.
“If MPs cannot author their own
questions or do their own research and
depend on journalists, then that is an indictment on the quality of the MPs we have, and that speaks to the parties who put them on the party list,” he said.
“If a politician does not know what the challenges the country or electorate is facing are, or what’s in the nation’s interest… what
is honourable Swartbooi trying to say
because that is an indictment on the
[political] leaders we have?”
Also reacting to Swartbooi’s assertion was
Toivo Ndjebela, Namibian Sun’s managing editor.
“If any political actor is deliberately portrayed by the media in a deceptive light, whether positive or negative, it is not only unethical but also undermines democracy itself, where the electorate is given a wrong picture of a person seeking to lead them. Mr Swartbooi’s assertions thus warrant further probing by the media fraternity itself with the aim to weed out such practices wherever they are found - assuming there’s veracity to the allegation,” he said yesterday.
Meanwhile, Erasmus Shalihaxwe, Windhoek Observer’s editor, echoed some of Swartbooi’s pointers.
“He [Swartbooi] is right to a certain extent. Some colleagues totally ignore the media code of conduct and ethics; they put their emotions in stories. I’ve seen a senior colleague telling Swapo leaders at a press conference ‘the Swapo government is taking us for poo’. We have freelance journalists who work full-time for political parties. Maybe that’s where he draws his conclusions from,” Shalihaxwe said.