Media applauds The Patriot's victory

2018-06-20

The High Court's dismissal of the Namibia Central Intelligence Service's bid to prevent a newspaper from publishing information about its property deals has been widely applauded in the media sector.

The NCIS lodged an urgent court action in early April to prevent The Patriot newspaper from publishing a story on corruption around the agency's properties.

However, judge Harald Geier on Monday dismissed the NCIS's bid with costs, saying there was no reason why the intelligence service could not be held accountable as a state agency.

“The agency has been established to serve the state, and thus remains accountable to the judiciary,” judge Geier said.

Yesterday, the Namibia Media Trust (NMT), which owns The Namibian, issued a statement welcoming the judgement and calling on the government to repeal the Protection of Information Act of 1982, as well as to review the Namibia Central Intelligence Act of 1997, which were cited in the case against The Patriot.

“It is clear from the judgement that these types of laws have the potential to cover up illegal acts of corruption as they inhibit maximum access to information, and subsequently public scrutiny of wrongdoing.

“Thus, the judgement is clear testimony that these acts are inimical to democratic commitments to freedom of media and expression as guaranteed in our Constitutional Bill of Rights,” said NMT chairperson Gwen Lister.

According to Lister, and NMT's Zoe Titus, the criminal penalties attached to the Protection of Information Act have a chilling effect on the work of journalists to report freely in the public interest, and flies in the face of democracy.

“We are, therefore, heartened by the judgement which not only displays the independence of our judiciary, but also adds to a growing body of jurisprudence on free expression,” read the statement.

The Editors' Forum of Namibia's secretary general, Alna Dall, described the dismissal of the NCIS case as an immense victory for freedom of speech and democracy in Namibia.

“The verdict sets a firm precedent for those who should want to attempt to censor the media in the name of 'national security',” she said.

Dall added that the judgement sent a strong warning to other government officials that they could not “willy-nilly” invoke archaic legislation, such as the Protection of Information Act 84 of 1982, to trample constitutional rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

* By Ndanki Kahiurika; Published in The Namibian on 20.6.2018