Written by Antonia Paal

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  • Area: 825,615 square kilometres
  • Population: 2 million (2011)
  • Capital: Windhoek
  • State form: semi-presidential democratic republic
  • Official language: English (plus 12 recognized regional languages
  • Religion: Christian (80-90 per cent, 2007)

Flag of Namibia

As a former colony of Germany and South Africa, Namibia’s media landscape, the respective legal frameworks as well as the journalism functions attributed to the media follow the Western model. Though Namibia is one of the freest countries in Africa, there are still problems such as a strong impact of state-owned media, a poorly built infrastructure and lacks in the professionalism of journalists. Regarding the key medium, the state-owned broadcaster NBC dominates the market. The NBC leadership is appointed by the ministry and works closely together with the government regarding their funding. It is to be doubted that a state-financed broadcaster reports neutral and balanced. Besides state-owned and state-influenced media, there are numerous privately owned and commercial radio and television stations as well as four dailies operating independent from the state. The constitution of 1990 guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression including media freedom. However, there are still laws which could lead to restrictions and no laws enabling the access to information. Though journalists have an important function as watchdogs, their professionalism doesn’t reach a high level. According to the ranking of Reporters Without Borders (2016), Namibia is the country with the freest media in Africa and number 17 in the world. However, according to Freedom House (2016), Namibia reaches a score of 33 which means its press is just ‚partly free’.
Communication policy and regulations
Namibia is a country with a history of colonial occupation. After first being a German colony, South Africa captured Namibia during the First World War. Former South-West Africa officially became independent from South Africa not before March 2, 1990. The Namibian constitution which was adopted in February 1990 is considered to be one of the most democratic constitutions in Africa. Article 21 comprises protection of human rights as well as press and media freedom: „All persons shall have the right to: freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media.“ Though there is no censorship and journalists can write freely, Natasha Tibinaye, director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), one of the most important NGOs in the field of press freedom in the South of Africa, said she was worried about a specific section of Article 21: the Official Secrets Act 1963, the National Key Points Act 1980 and the Criminal Procedures Act 1977, each conceived under South African administration. The latter “permits a magistrate to order a journalist to reveal his or her source during a criminal trial or to imprison a journalist should he or she refuse to comply” (Sims & Koep, 2012: 120). While these are not enforced, there still is the possibility for the government to do so – which is illustrated by the fact that these laws were applied in a few cases. Another problem journalists are struggling with is that there is no law to ensure access to information. Furthermore, there is the 1982 Protection of Information Act which limits what can be disclosed by government employees (Freedom House, 2016).

Another critical aspect is that even though there is a multi-party parliamentary democracy, the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) faces no real opposition. The party has won every election since Namibia’s independence. Even though the government has no official right to restrict press freedom, there are some cases where a violation of this freedom by certain politicians was claimed. One example is stated in the country report of Freedom House (2016): “In January 2014, Minister of Works and Transport Erkki Nghimtina won a defamation case against the Informanté newspaper, and was awarded N$60,000 (US$5,500) in damages. The judge criticized the newspaper for not having made reasonable efforts to verify claims from an anonymous source that Nghimtina had used his position to illegally redirect electricity to his mother-in-law’s home. However, the judge awarded significantly less than the N$500,000 (US$46,000) Nghimtina had claimed.”

Lucia Engombe, an editor at the German NBC program who was interviewed as an expert, claimed that the government is threatening journalists, to ensure that no critical reporting about their actions will be published. Also “journalists risk harassment and physical attacks. In the days before the 2014 election, opposition party officials unhappy with the balance of coverage at NBC threatened and verbally attacked NBC journalists. (…) Several other physical attacks against journalists were reported in 2014” (Freedom House, 2016).

While there are no mere journalist unions in Namibia you still can find self-regulation amongst the media. The Editor’s Forum Namibia (EFN) is a union of journalists and media houses, both from private and state-owned media, with the mutual aim to establish a reasonable self-control similar to those in other countries. Together with the Media Institute of Southern Africa the EFN set up the „Office of the Media Ombudsman (…) in 2009 which was then guided by the Namibian Media Code of Ethics” (MISA, 2016). Together with the Media Complaint Committee (MCC), the Namibian Media Ombudsman Clement Daniels reconciles complaints about media, reporting or journalists. In an expert interview, he said his workload could hardly be planned. Sometimes there would be three to four complaints a day, sometimes just one in three months. But all in all he and the MCC reach an agreement in 90 per cent of the cases. Regulating and registering electronic media is under the responsibility of the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN). The panelists of the Media Sustainability Index (MSI) report noted some issues regarding conflict of interests or the appointment of CRAN board members, who are appointed solely by the minister and not in an open process“ (MSI, 2012: 287).
Media offers
In Namibia there exists a number of newspapers including five daily and five weekly papers. Looking closer at the daily papers you can find differences in language and ownership. The Namibia Media Holding (NMH), in which the South African conglomerate Media24 has a 50 per cent share, publishes three of the five daily newspapers: Allgemeine Zeitung (in German), Die Republikein (in Afrikaans), and The Namibian Sun which is the sole tabloid in Namibia and published in English. Stefan Fischer, the chief editor of Allgemeine Zeitung, said that these three papers are totally different and editorially independent of one another. The holding would only matter in the ad market. One of the two remaining newspapers is independent (The Namibian) and the other is owned by a semi-governmental media house. The latter, named New Era, especially presents information in public interest like health topics, while private media are less community oriented (MSI, 2012: 291).

Regarding to the influence of the government on the newspaper, there were different opinions to be found. While Allgemeine Zeitung chief editor Stefan Fischer stated that the New Era reports surprisingly neutral and even critical, Robin Tyson, a lecturer at the University of Namibia, is sceptical about the parastatals: “If you did a comparison of The Namibian, which is a very independent newspaper, and New Era, which is the semi-government newspaper, you will probably find that The Namibian has more stories critical of the government.” Regardless of the ownership the circulation is not really wide, even though some of the experts mentioned that three to ten people share one newspaper. Altogether, there are only 100,000 copies for a population of two million. This is mainly caused by matters of infrastructure, economy and education. With a real high circulation of newspapers in the urban areas, there are difficulties to reach the rural districts, where 58 per cent of the population live. In addition, the costs of a newspaper are around 3-4 dollar a copy, which is really expensive in relation to the earnings most of the people have (Stefan Fischer). But also language is a reason for the small circulation. For example, there live ten to fifteen thousand people in Namibia whose mother tongue is German. With 4.000 sold copies a day the Allgemeine Zeitung reaches almost all German-speaking households (Stefan Fischer, editor-in-chief). With 60.000 copies, even The Namibian reaches only a small part of the population. So, newspaper access is restricted to an elite that is wealthy enough to afford newspapers on a regular basis, living in an urban part of Namibia and part of the 76.5 literate per cent (UNICEF Statistics, 2012).

Against this background, it seems logic that the radio still is the key medium. The major player is the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), a state-owned public broadcaster whose neutrality is to be doubted (Stefan Fischer). “Marbeline Mwashekele, former director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)-Namibia and a media activist, noted that the government ‚gives the impression that they ‘own’ the NBC. Sometimes the director general has to do the checking of stories himself to see if they are ‘SWAPO-friendly’ or not!’” (MSI, 2012: 287) The Director General is the chairperson of the NBC Board of Directors. This Board of Directors controls and supervises the affairs of the NBC and its members are all – as prescribed by law in the Namibian Broadcasting Act of 1991, Section 5 appointed by the Minister of Information and Communication Technology for a period of five years. The minister also plays a decisive role when it comes to the financing of NBC: “The board shall furnish the Minister not later than 30 days before the tabling of the budget in the National Assembly in each year with a report on the work of the Corporation” (Namibian Broadcasting Act, Article 25). Also “the Corporation shall maintain a general fund into which shall be paid all moneys appropriated by law for the benefit of the Corporation and all other moneys received by the Corporation” (Article 20, Section 1). Therefore, it can be said that the “main source of funding is an annual state subsidy” (NAMA, 2016). However, there are other sources of income like “the sale of air time and programs, the issuing of yearly television licenses and the renting out of transmitters” (NAMA, 2016). Regarding Lucia Engombe, editor at the radio station nbc, there are also incomes coming from listener initiatives.

Being close to the government both financially and personally leads to a sort of dependence between politics and NBC officials. One good example was reported by Freedom House in 2015: “The director general of NBC, Albertus Aochamub, is a close ally of newly elected president Hage Geingob and is reportedly in line to be one of Geingob’s eight appointees to parliament. The appointees are expected to be announced in early 2015.” Short time after the Freedom House report Albertus Aochamub was appointed to the role of the Press Secretary. As in many countries public broadcasters serve various purposes like information, education and entertainment for the people the same as promoting peace, stability and cultural growth (Rothe, 2010: 42).

Though there are several private or community radio stations, according to Robin Tyson who works at the University of Namibia, NBC is the only one to be receivable nation-wide. In addition to that NBC also „broadcasts from 10 communities in local languages” (MSI, 2012: 290). So via radio 98 per cent of the population can be reached not only because people can access news in their mother tongue, but also because a small radio is affordable for more people than a newspaper is. Despite the main radio being a state broadcaster the public broadcasting is “based on the example of BBC and the German public broadcasting. There is also a cooperation between NBC and the Bavarian public broadcaster since the 1980s” says Wolfram Winter, who worked at the Windhoek Advertiser in former South West Africa.

Though there is a private TV station called One Africa, NBC has a higher share in the market. The state-owned TV station reaches 70 per cent of the Namibian population (African Media Barometer, 2001: 29), even though there are still limiting factors like the costs for a TV, the annual license fee or the fact that only 60 per cent of the population have access to electricity (Namibia Economic Indicators, 2012). Especially the high e ducated population watches not only Namibian TV but also international broadcasters as CNN or BBC to acquire international news. The German community in Namibia also watches German broadcasters as ARD, ZDF or RTL. Robin Tyson is worried by this aspect as some Namibians don’t receive national news and are not informed about what is happening in their own country. “The real change is in terms of broadcasting”, said Robin Tyson. As Namibia is the first African country to change the TV broadcasting from analogue to digital terrestrial. Besides all NBC radio and TV programs there are three additional TV stations receivable via DDT signal.
Journalists' autonomy
Considering the working conditions of journalists in Namibia it can be said that they are able to work quite freely. The government does not censor the journalistic work. „Entry into the journalism profession is free, and government imposes no licensing, restrictions, or special rights for journalists” (MSI 2012: 287). There are no laws about registration or accreditation in order to practice as a journalist. Nevertheless, „media are required to obtain a media card from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology” (MSI, 2012: 288) for certain state events.

Robin Tyson, lecturer for Information and Communication Studies at the Namibian University, claims that Journalists are able to report „pretty neutral and fairly objective”, even though „Namibia is weak overall regarding legislation on access to information, and journalists tend to censor themselves out of fear of losing their jobs“ (MSI, 2012: 287). Another factor is a possible self-censorship regarding the semi-governmental media house, which owns the newspaper New Era, the broadcaster NBC and the national press agency NAMPA. “The Minister of Information and Communication Technology appoints the board of directors. And of course you’ll maybe end up with a conflict situation with self-censorship by journalists. Who would be unwilling to be critical of government because the minister basically appointed the board and the board has appointed them as journalists.” (Robin Tyson)

And yet the journalists being investigative and reporting news, even being critical against the government, is more than important in Namibia. Since there is only a weak and fractured opposition the ruling party could govern without contrary, therefore journalists and the media have a significant role in checks and balances, they act as watchdogs and keep the SWAPO from becoming too powerful (Robin Tyson). If they’re able to absolutely accomplish this is questionable. According to the Media Sustainability Index 2012, journalism professionalization is below standard in Namibia: ”Gilbert Macharia, an independent freelance journalist, expressed concern that ‚some stories [are] shallow and not well researched, with poor cross-checking. Sometimes there will be facts that come later that contradict the story.‘ Magenya spoke of a noted laxness in how journalists capture information. ‚You will be interviewed and verbatim quotes will appear in the story – things that were never said‘ he stated“ (MSI, 2012: 289). The Media Ombudsman Clement Daniels who was interviewed as an expert also outlines complaints he worked on about conflicts of interests in stories or personal vendettas. Furthermore, there is a turn in separating advertisement from editorial content. One example is the Allgemeine Zeitung. „The paper publishes numerous print media supplements, so-called “advertorials”, but often this paid content is not clearly identified as such“ (MSI, 2012: 293). Stefan Fischer also considered influences by advertising. He said it was no problem to criticize advertising customers in the newspaper, though they would be especially thorough in this kind of coverage.

According to Wolfram Winter, qualifications amongst journalists are really good. The Code of Ethics is setting a high ethical standard said Robin Tyson. Though it is part of the journalistic education Natasha Tibinaye, who is director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Namibia and was interviewed as an expert, saw a need for mentoring in the newsroom regarding those ethical standards because there is a difference between knowing them and applying. Most of the journalists receive a salary you can exist on, however the MSI panelists „said that journalists accept gifts and favors regularly, although not money normally, while some panelists alleged that politicians give money to journalists for providing favorable coverage. Some journalists have been seen wearing the colors and clothing of certain political parties, which damage their appearance of objectivity and accuracy“ (MSI, 2012: 289). Overall journalists are respected and trusted in Namibia. Robin Tyson said there is “trust to a very large extent, especially trust in traditional media”.
This country report is largely based on a seminar paper composed by Ludwig Gengnagel and Peter Arnold at Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich in 2015. All interviews have been conducted by them from December 2014 to February 2015.

Interviewed experts (remote via Skype, telephone, email)
  • Robin Tyson, lecturer for Information and Communication Studies at the University of Namibia
  • Stefan Fischer, chief editor, Allgemeine Zeitung
  • Wolfram Winter, honorary consul of Namibia
  • Natasha Tibinyane, director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Namibia
  • Clement Daniels, Media Ombudsman of Namibia
  • Lucia Engombe, editor at the German program of NBC
Recommended citation form:
Antonia Paal: Namibia. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. (access date).