January 7, 2005

NBC bans religious devotions on radio and TV

The Director General of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) claims sole responsibility for a decision to suspend all religious programming from television and radio, with immediate effect and until further notice. He said that the Corporation was "concerned about the way some devotions are conducted" and wanted to "revisit its guidelines to that effect". The NBC also apologised to viewers and listeners for "any inconvenience this may have caused". When approached for comment on the surprise move, Gerry Munyama, NBC Director General, maintained that this was purely an operational issue, an executive decision taken by him personally, and denied any directive from either State House or the NBC board of directors, which he said only meets again in March. However, Munyama said that, "it's just getting out of hand, seriously, it's just getting out of hand," when he described the way in which "religion is getting out of the traditional way we know it." He highlighted the mushrooming of different religious groups, particularly in Windhoek, and made reference to numerous tents set up for religious services in Katutura and other suburbs around the capital. "Somewhere, somehow, we must seek leadership of the religious groups," said Munyama, stressing the need to ensure that the NBC lives up to its mission to inform and educate the Namibian public correctly.

To this end, the NBC has written a formal request for a meeting with Reverend Nangula Kathindi, Secretary General of the Council of Churches of Namibia (CCN), in order to discuss the guidelines regulating which religious programmes the Corporation should put on the air. Munyama also emphasised that the immediate suspension is "only temporary" and as soon as the guidelines have been revised, the NBC would be screening religious programmes again. Menesia Muinjo, acting director general until Munyama returns from leave, pointed out that only the "preaching parts" of religious programmes are being targeted, while gospel music and other religious programmes remain suitable for use until the new guidelines are drawn up.

The CCN represents 19 churches, including the four that former President Sam Nujoma said were the only ones recognised by his Government - the Anglican, African Methodist Episcopal, Roman Catholic and the Evangelical Lutheran churches. The CNN has long been recognised and accommodated by the Government and the NBC, but the programmes of its member churches have now also been affected by the suspension. Bishop Wahl Abrahams of the New Covenant Celebration Centre in Windhoek said: "I think it is a sad day for the church in Namibia". He had been conducting religious devotions on NBC radio since 1990 and "did not see any problems with those guidelines" (which were currently in existence) and NBC producers had always ensured compliance with these. Reverend Ngeno Nakamela, former CCN General Secretary and now responsible for the inner-city Lutheran congregation in Windhoek, emphasised the country's Constitution which provided for freedom of religion, and said the “mushrooming” of churches had nothing to do with the NBC's religious programming guidelines. He added that it was the 'incapacity' of the NBC as far as its selection of religious programmes was concerned that was to blame. "I find it funny that the NBC wants to consult the churches (the CCN) after they have decided to suspend the religious programmes", he said. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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