Friday, 16 September 2016

Media abuse and the citizen

The past few weeks (and years) there has been a debate in Namibia about the freedom of the press and more specifically the government's stated intention to regulate the media. The Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN) has also circulated a broadcasting policy which indicates certain regulations which will be imposed by government.

I wish to dissect this matter for those of us who are not in the media business who would like to have our media free from suppression, BUT, would also like to ensure that the media are held accountable for what they publish. In addition, most citizens are aware that we need to evolve new methods of management of social media posts.

What is Freedom of the Press?

Freedom of the press refers to the right circulating opinion in the media without censorship from the government. What is critical is that freedom of the press allows opinions (normally about leaders) to be circulated for comment among the general public. The Namibian Constitution in Article 21 on Fundamental Freedoms states "All persons shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media".
THUS, freedom of the press and the right to express an opinion (freedom of speech) is guaranteed in our supreme law.

What happens if Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press is abused?

Abuse of freedom of speech refers to a a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual person, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation. This abuse is referred to as "libel" which is a malicious, false statement in written media, a broadcast, or otherwise published words.

Note: Under common law the word "defamation" is used to indicate a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual person, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation. If defamation takes place in published works it is called libel; and when it is spoken it is called slander.

If you wish to take the process to court when libel occurs you must prove a civil wrong that has caused you to suffer loss or harm for which the person who printed the statement should be held liable.

How do I prove libel?

In general (please consult a lawyer) you must prove that the statement was false, that it has caused harm, and was made without adequate research into the truthfulness of the statement. In the first part of the statement I already had to state that a lawyer had to be consulted. AND that is the crux of the matter why citizens need some regulatory authority with teeth or a small claims court where they can makes such claims without the expense of a legal professional.


If we wish to establish mechanisms that will allow citizens an easy way to make the media pay for libel there are three options open to us:
1. The present self-regulating Media Ombudsman be empowered to give binding decisions when libel is found. (Also expand the system to allow for inputs by consumer groups)
2. Include measure in the Consumer Protection Act that will allow compensation if libel is found. This can be addressed through a Small Claims Court.
3. “Regulated Self-regulation” – where government regulators create the conditions in which media can demonstrate they are acting responsibly.

The need to hold the media and journalists for what they write or broadcast is clear. However, the government should not be allowed to use this sentiment to take away any of our hard won rights in our constitution.

1 comment:

Matawa Gaingos said...

As a student, this is educational and eye opening.