Namibia celebrates World Press Freedom Day and 25th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in partnership with the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Namibia Chapter commemorated the 2016 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) at Zoo Park, Windhoek on Tuesday, 10 May 2016. The theme for this year is “Access to information and fundamental freedoms. This is your right!” The celebration also marked the 25th Anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration which gave birth to WPFD on 3 May 1993.

The ceremony brought together a collective body of representatives from relevant government offices, diplomatic corps, humanitarian organisations, non-governmental organizations and the media. The overall objective of the celebration was to raise public and institutional awareness on access to information as a fundamental human right. 

The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) keynote speaker and Deputy Director of Print Media Affairs at the MICT, Mr Frans Nghitila, who spoke on behalf of Deputy Minister Stanley Simataa said that an access to information law will soon be available in Namibia. He also urged all the journalists to acknowledge the Government’s efforts in creating an enabling environment for their operation and reciprocate that through ethical journalism.

"We (Government) are working hard at ensuring access to information by all especially journalists. We expect the media to be more responsible and contribute meaningfully to sustainable development," he said.

Mr Nghitila also mentioned new initiatives in the pipeline by the ministry such as the whistle blowers protection act, e-governance plan and broadband access by citizens which the Government is currently working on to ensure that the infrastructure for an access to information law is in place.   

The United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator, Ms Kiki Gbeho delivered the UN Secretary General Mr Ban Ki Moon and UNESCO Director General, Ms Irina Bokova’s Messages on WPFD.  She emphasised on the important role the media plays in achieving developmental goals, especially those launched under the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty.

"The media plays a pivotal role in raising awareness and providing a better understanding of the SDGs. In order for us to achieve sustainable development, we must come together and pull in one direction, just as the preamble to the SDGs encourages us to leave no one behind," said Ms Gbeho.   

She also congratulated Namibia for being ranked number one in Africa and 17 in the world in terms of press freedom according to the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

As a result of rapid technological advancements in the media and the increase of online journalism, UNESCO strongly supports that Press Freedom and Freedom of expression should be protected online.

During his speech, Dr Jean-Pierre Ilboudo, the UNESCO representative to Namibia, mentioned that bloggers and social media activists who generate information that is of public interest are increasingly gaining recognition by the international community in recent resolutions across the UN.

"UNESCO believes that bloggers should be protected just like journalists. However, they must abide with the journalism ethics. This means they too must verify their sources," he said.

Ms Jana Hybaskova, European Union (EU) Ambassador to Namibia commended the country’s free press and the variety and diversity of opinion displayed amongst the numerous media platforms.

She said that while journalists globally face many challenges, including harassment, threats, imprisonment and death, it is important to highlight how media and information continues to thrive in the Southern African region. According to the EU Ambassador this development shows that the best and good practice in media freedom is doing well on the African continent.

After an entertaining performance by local poets and traditional dancers, MISA Regional Director, Ms Zoe Titus gave the vote of thanks at the ceremony and reflected on the efforts made by UNESCO in 1991 to free imprisoned journalists so they could join the historic seminar known as the Windhoek Declaration. She also extended her prayers and solidarity to all those journalists imprisoned and who lost their lives in the line of duty.

The roots of World Press Freedom Day began in Namibia's capital 25 years ago, when the Windhoek Declaration on global press freedom was crafted at a seminar for African journalists organized by UNESCO. In December 1993, the UN General Assembly declared 3 May, the date of the Windhoek Declaration, as World Press Freedom Day.