INTERVIEW: Namibian Media Trust to support UNESCO’s Press Freedom Prize


The Namibian Media Trust (NMT), a media development organisation, is the newest donor of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, which awards individuals or organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to the defense of press freedom. For the next two years, NMT will support the Prize, along with the Cano Foundation (Colombia) and Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (Finland).

1. Why did the Trust decide to become a supporter of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize?

For us it is critically important to support the work of an institution like UNESCO. We see how the Organization is the global entity that has the responsibility to drive the agenda of press freedom. We are also proud that, as a small team in Southern Africa, we can actually support it. We would like to challenge others to do the same. There are bigger groups in the region that certainly can do it as well. Therefore, I think this is a good start. I like the idea that the NMT is changing the game.

2. How did the decision come about?

It is something that was raised with our Executive Chairperson, Gwen Lister, many years ago. However, it did not take off at that time, probably because she was still the editor of The Namibian newspaper. When Gwen Lister handed over the newspaper in 2011, she thought that it was time to do what it was originally established for, which was to reinvest funds from commercial media entities into media development.

Now, it makes a lot more sense for the Trust to become involved. When UNESCO call was made this year for organizations to contribute to the Prize, it came at the right time. It gives it an identity and it gives credibility to what the Trust is doing.

3. In what ways is being a donor from the South a game changer?

I like the fact that we are in a position to contribute, to be considered a donor and to contribute to an initiative that benefits us all. I find it exciting that from the South we can do that rather than always being the recipient. I think it is very empowering. This is an exciting time.

We are a funder, we are a promoter. We are making an investment beyond the advocacy work we naturally do anyway. We are investing financially. I think that there is an opportunity for others to do the same. Maybe this is also an opportunity for UNESCO to consider that there are others that can make contributions and that we can change the faces of those that are sitting around the table.

How does the NMT support press freedom in Southern Africa?

NMT is a model that has potential for sustainability, to make independent media in Africa thrive and start reinvesting resources for media freedom and freedom of expression. I think there is a clear understanding that the role of the Trust is to support the environment that commercial media requires in order to do its job.

We do training for journalists, we facilitate programs, and we facilitate discussions and dialogue, providing platforms for the media to engage with professionals from other industries and amongst themselves. Nonetheless, I think what has taken up our time quite considerably are two important issues: policy advocacy and research around ICT policy.

In Namibia, currently, there is an electronic transactions and cybercrime bill pending, there is a draft Access to Information law, a broadband policy, and a cybercrime policy pending. We have been directly involved, either in terms of advocacy or in terms of funding certain processes.

5. What are the expectations?

We hope that more organizations will come to the table and match what NMT is contributing or even surpass that. We would like to see the Prize sustained. We would continue advocating and promoting it. Going forward, we made a commitment for 2 years. Maybe we can extend that period and at the same time get others on board and challenge them. Challenge them publicly.