What's news in Namibia's media environment
Robin Tyson, lecturer in media studies at the University of Namibia (UNAM), recently spoke to journalists at Suomi/Africa, sat alongside local Namibian media types from the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation and other entities, at a seminar on the media environment in Namibia. The University of Namibia has run a degree programme in media studies since independence. Mr Tyson runs this programme and associated courses, and has been deeply involved in the Namibian media landscape for decades.
He presented, to his fellow media operatives from all backgrounds, a comprehensive yet concise appraisal of the nation's media environment and outlets. A core theme underpinning his presentation is the concept that reception of media texts - access to media products and the information driving media enterprises - are grossly impacted by distinct disparities of wealth, and variations of meaningful access to modes of access and technological usage. Mr Tyson began wiith the initial experience of travellers to the country.
News and views, local and not
So, NBC, One Africa and Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) are local broadcasters, and yet they are not accessible in the hotels frequented by travellers to the country. What the visitor will get is a bouquet of international channels including BBC World and EuroNews. This could be a matter of simple market forces at work - but Mr Tyson added the consideration that the nation's indigenous media firms operate well enough across the country to render their access to these channels by foreigners coming to the country a matter of some serious concern.
Nonetheless, in the nation's homes, national broadcast content is reasonably well-supported, both in terms of finance and with respect to reception. Namibia's print media is in similar good health, with increasing circulation - although there are concerns with respect to well-funded, minority interests, and the challenges presented by government through its financial and regulatory instruments.
The Namibian government does permit a relatively open media envoronment, the product of which is perhaps best represented by Republikein, a national newspaper. However, one has to be aware that direct state involvement in broadcast and print media is a significant factor in both frequency of publication or broadcasting, and the nature of content published and broadcasted. Journalists may or may not feel free to produce texts critical of politically sensitive matters, with the knowledge that a significant chunk of their media budgets is provided by government advertising or other funding.
Another factor is the imbalance of rural and urban access to media. Outside the capital, Windhoek, there is very little local media produced - and so access to information away from televsion and radio rests with the production of nationally-produced, nationally-focused, nationally distributed print media. This has to be considered a particularly detrimental matter for rural Namibians. There are five daily newspapers, in English and also (in the case of Allgemeine Zeitung, or AZ) in German, there are many national commercial broadcasters, and there is radio, principally in English and Afrikaans. However, the local and cultural diversity in representation is still very much a work in progress. New radio stations - most notably, in townships - are starting up, but much is still be done with respect to areas such as diversity of representation, addressing gender sensitivity or the variety of cultural behaviours, social and sexual lifestyle choices. What does influence media practice and content most - as already suggested with respect to governmental influence - is money. Republikein is well-funded by a advertising towards an affluent minority, for example, and so produces a range of texts principally geared towards the interests of that minority. Language is ananother concern - for radio, in particular - as one locality or community may not want to listen to radio in a language other than their own local dialect, of which not a few exist - Oshiwambo being a prime example.
Doing it digitally
One bright note is the emergence of a growing digital mediia community. Namibia was the second country in Africa to gain fourth generation (or 4G) mobile communications infrastructure - the latest available - on the back of already robust 2G and 3G networks. And Namibia has been keen to gain a new generation of readers, geared towards online media usage. There are online sites at the country's main newspapers - and Namibian Sun, for example, has just begun a mobile version of its newspaper, with a paywall currently set at N$5 (US 50 cents) per week. For a small nation, set in southern Africa, proximal to much larger economies - not least of which is South Africa - this is revolutionary stuff. This is almost exclusively driven by the private sector, and largely unconstrained by public sector interests. The government of Namibia itself is aware of the emergence and potential of a new digital generation, and is likely to move proactively - through financial and regulatory support - towards further development of Namibian media in the digital sphere.