ACTION ALERT UP-DATE - NAMIBIA
APRIL 26, 1996
PRIME MINISTER SAYS HE WILL SCRAP OFFENDING CLAUSES IN DRAFT BILL, IF.....
Prime Minister Hage Geingob says he will scrap clauses in a new bill which
arguably conflict with constitutional guarantees of media freedom if the
act is referred back to the National Assembly. The bill is currently being
debated by the National Council, and if the National Council makes
amendments to the bill, it will be referred back to the National Assembly
for further debate.
"I wish to emphasis that we will not allow the freedom of the media to be
compromised in any way," Geingob said in a press release issued today
(April 26). "If the National Council recommends any amendments to the Bill
and refers it back to the National Assembly, I will use that opportunity to
act, as the presenter of the bill, to have the clauses removed so that
Namibia's untarnished imaged remains untarnished." Geingob said.
As its stands, Section 24 (1d) of the Parliamentary Privileges and
Immunities Bill states that "Any person who intentionally or negligently
publishes any false information on Parliament or its proceedings....shall
be guilty of an offense." Meanwhile, Section 24 (1g), an amendment passed
by the National Assembly, says that: "Anyone who intentionally or
negligently publishes or discloses any information that has been placed
before a (parliamentary) committee prior to such information being tabled
before the House shall be guilty of an offense." Anyone convicted of these
offenses would face a maximum fine of N$20 000 (U$5000) and/or five year's
"At the very outset I would like to point out that it was never the
government's intention to curtail the freedom of the press and other
media," Geingob said in his statement. "After all, we had waged the
struggle for the independence of the country to ensure that all citizens
enjoy all the fundamental freedoms, of which freedom of the media is one.
In this context I must say that the media's interpretation of the two
clauses raises our concern that Namibia's good name may be jeopardised by
the retention of these clauses, however innocent they may be."
Geingob said it was never the government's intention to curtail media
freedom. "We had drafted the constitution to protect the fundamental rights
of all Namibians, and if a clause in the bill is seen by some as an
infringement of that right, we will act to remove it."
At a press briefing on Wednesday (April 24), Information and Broadcasting
Minister Ben Amathila reportedly said he had no problem with the
controversial clauses in the draft bill. According to The Namibian
newspaper of April 25, Amathila said he saw nothing wrong in someone who
intentionally misinformed the public being prosecuted.
It is not clear whether or not the National Council will amend the bill,
and thus send it back to the National Assembly. Until The Namibian
newspaper published a story on Monday about the contents of the bill, most
politicians, media workers and members of the diplomatic community seemed
unaware of the media freedom implications of what many saw as a standard
piece of procedural legislation. The bill was tabled in and passed by the
National Assembly back in March. On April 23, National Council Chief Whip
for the ruling SWAPO party, Henock Sheya ya Kasita, said the government
should not impose restrictions on the media, as these were unnecessary in a
democratic country, The Namibian reported the following day.
Yet the previous Thursday (April 18), ya Kasita's SWAPO colleague Michael
Hishikushitja called for parliament to be empowered to "ban" journalists
"who report on classified and leaked information" from parliamentary select
committees, the daily Windhoek Advertiser reported at the time.
Hishikushitja said that such a ban should apply to anyone, including
parliamentarians, who disclosed information from "confidential"
parliamentary documents, adding that "Parliament should have the right to
punish or to fine all those who are found guilty of contempt of
parliament." The National Council will resume debate on the Privileges and
Immunities of Parliament Bill on Thursday (May 2).
Editors of most of Namibia's mainstream media have condemned the draft
bill's offending clauses, and have lobbied hard to have them removed. There
is also concern amongst the diplomatic and donor community about the
clauses, which - if unamended - will have a major impact on several
donor-funded programmes to make the legislature more open and accountable
to the public. Over the next three-and-a-half years around U$3 million in
USA tax payers' money is going to be spent on one such project managed by
the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI). The NDI is also funding a
bill summary programme to the tune of U$96 000, which allows a local human
rights organisation to provide other non-governmental organisations and
members of parliament with summaries of draft legislation.
At present, the government is not under any obligation to publish
legislation prior to it being tabled in parliament. Instead, it is left to
the discretion of individual ministers whether or not they make draft
legislation public before it is tabled in parliament. As far as MISA is
aware, few ministers do publish drafts before they are tabled.
MISA believes that Clause 21 (1g) of the draft Privileges and Immunities
Bill will effectively outlaw public debate on legislation prior to it being
tabled in parliament, which - as the current situation with the Privileges
and Immunities Bill goes to show - leaves little time for the public to air
its views on proposed legislation. Meanwhile, with no clear definition of
what constitutes "false information", Clause 21 (1d) will make journalists
afraid to report on controversial issues in parliament, and will thus limit
the flow of information from parliament to the public. This is made even
more unjust given that Clause 2 of the Privileges and Immunities of
Parliament Bill says that members of parliament cannot be "liable to any
civil or criminal proceedings, arrest, imprisonment or damages by reason of
anything done in the exercise of that member's right to freedom of speech
The Journalist's Association of Namibia (JAN) has in place a code of
conduct which guides members' reporting of events, including parliament,
and therefore JAN does not see the need for legislation to further govern
the work of journalists.
Write to members of the National Council
- urging them to scrap clauses 21 (1d) and (1g) of the draft Privileges and
Immunities of Parliament Bill
Write to Prime Minister Hage Geingob
- applauding his government's stated commitment to upholding media freedom
and free expression, and his decision to remove the offending clauses from
the Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Bill
- urging him to help impress upon members of the National Assembly and
National Council the need to make all legislation conform with
internationally accepted standards on media freedom and free expression.
The Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Hage Geingob
Office of the Prime Minister
Private Bag 13338
Tel: +264 61 2879111
Fax: + 264 61 226189
Hon Kandi Nehova
Chairperson of the National Council
Private Bag 13371
Tel: +264 61 237561 / 2 / 3
Fax: + 264 61 226121
Hon Henock Sheya ya Kasita
SWAPO Chief Whip
Private Bag 13371
Tel: +264 61 237561 / 2 / 3
Fax: + 264 61 226121
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Private Bag 13386
Tel. +264 61 232975, Fax. 248016
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