3.2.2009

SMSes protected by Constitution - Experts

THE SMS page of The Namibian is an innovative way of helping ordinary people to air their views and thereby exercise their fundamental human rights of participating in democracy and freedom of expression.


This was said by a prominent human rights lawyer and the Director of the Legal Assistance Centre, Norman Tjombe, in reaction to a call by the Swapo Party Elders' Council to stop the publication of the messages.

SPEC secretary Kanana Hishoono said SMS users and callers to radio chat shows who criticise President Hifikepunye Pohamba and former President Sam Nujoma want to create chaos and anarchy in the country.

"In any country, especially a developing country faced with many challenges such as Namibia, we need to encourage more people to speak out on issues, regardless of how serious or trivial these might appear, and not discourage people. To do so will be a dangerous slippery slope towards a closed society," said Tjombe .

He said stopping the messages would take away the benefits of openness and transparency.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant. We should not only accept criticism and suggestions, we should embrace them. If questions from constituents, the public, or the media make leaders or other responsible parties obfuscate, the questions are usually valid and the answers are not," he said.

He believes people who feel uncomfortable under the bright light of scrutiny and criticism often have something to hide.

The Namibian Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa also said the public must embrace the notion of a free and independent press.

The National Director of Misa Namibia, Mathew Haikali, said the press must not feel intimidated to publish or air public opinion.


"The media rely on the public and their opinions to cover stories, and as a direct result whatever comes out in the media is a reflection of what society is saying and doing. To stop the SMSes from being published or the chat shows to be stopped would be to cut off the ears and the eyes of the media from effectively reporting on issues that concern society," Haikali said.

However, he called for greater care in publishing or airing information that might be in conflict with the needs of society, and which could incite tension, as stipulated in the media code of ethics (the namibian)

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