New MISA boss strives for constructive engagement

Q: Let me take this opportunity to congratulate you for being the first Namibian to be appointed MISA regional director. When did you actually take over from Luckson Chipare? A: Thank you very much. I assumed duty on April 1. Q: Having worked for MISA and with Chipare for several years, are there things that you learnt from him that are coming in handy in your new job? A: Chipare had a very strong financial background and was somebody who has given MISA financial strength. He was very good at proposal writing, translating ideas into fundable proposals, which is very difficult. You can have a brilliant idea but it is not easy to convince people to put money to enable you to implement that idea. This is something that I have learnt from him. He was also very good at managing people and never created conflict among employees. I don’t know whether I can be that good but it is something that I will follow to create harmony among MISA staff members. Q: I was privileged to be among those that were invited to Chipare’s farewell reception and I listened to the glowing tributes by speaker after speaker about his professionalism and achievements while under the employ of MISA. Having taken over from such a highly rated man, what challenges does this pose for you? A: I think we are different people altogether. He was very strong in securing funding for MISA and making it very financially strong, but I will be focusing on other elements. I have two things that I will focus on. One of them is that we should increase our engagement with governments, something we have hitherto not tried to do. When we talk about advocacy we talk about influence and I want to influence governments’ positions and policies on issues that affect media and media freedom. This is a different dimension to what MISA was doing under Chipare’s leadership. We will complement each other by carrying on with what he has built and what I will bring in. Q: What is MISA’s core business? A: MISA’s core business is to defend media freedom and to promote or enhance media freedom. We pay particular attention to the media because of the role it plays as a bridge between citizens and governments. We highlight all violations which affect media freedom for journalists and institutions. Q: MISA was formed in 1992. Already you have chapters in 11 of all SADC member states. That is a remarkable achievement in just 14 years. Who funds MISA? A: MISA is basically funded by donors and I am very proud to say that we are donor-funded but we are funded by donors that we feel have no agenda at all. We are funded by Scandinavians. We have four main donors from Scandinavian countries. We also get funding from the Netherlands. We have no other countries funding us. Our members also come in with subscription fees, either as individuals or institutions. DANIDA, SIDA, NORAD, NIZA and HIVOS among others are our main donors. Q: How does this sort of funding affect your work since in most instances he who pays the piper calls the tune? A: The good thing about Scandinavian countries is that they will fund but not influence you. You approach them with certain priority areas which you want to deal with and on that basis they fund you. The good thing about us is that we are basket funded. We are not funded according to particular programmes. We get a lump sum and it is up to MISA to use that money as best they can on whatever programme we choose to undertake in a particular year. We don’t tailor our programmes to suit the whims of donors. That has helped us to be independent. Q: Is there a special reason why you do not have chapters in South Africa, DR Congo and Mauritius? A: We have a chapter in South Africa. It was just suspended for some time because South Africa is a very difficult set up because of a highly industrialised and very vocal media industry. It is sometimes very difficult to find your niche in such a set up. It requires very strategic thinkers who can then link up with the industry. That has been our weakness in South Africa. DR Congo has only just recently come within the SADC family. As you know it is a French speaking country and we haven’t responded to the challenge but we are thinking about it. We are planning to have a chapter in Mauritius soon. We are engaged in discussions to see how we can have chapter there but also because of their French background it was not easy for us to go there. Now they are a key player in SADC and we are actively engaged in discussions on how we can have a representative office. Q: Africa is beset by numerous institutions that are African in name only but are mostly funded by outsiders. How African is your institute? A: Well, besides the funding the institution is very African. Definitely you will not find any person who is not from Africa working for MISA nor in its governing councils. In Africa we are very much challenged by a serious shortage of resources and our constituency is unfortunately the media industry which does not have a lot of money. Apart from South Africa and to a certain extent Namibia, there is no other country in the region with media institutions that can plough money into MISA, so we end up relying on foreign funding. Governments are not interested in funding rights organisations despite the fact that they have constitutions and policies that promote rights yet they don’t want to put money towards the advancement of these rights. The SADC protocol, which is a regional commitment by SADC governments, clearly recognises media freedom, freedom of expression and the right to access to information yet governments will never fund programmes that try to promote these. This is Africa’s dilemma and we end up having to look up to friendly institutions for funding. Q: Africa is reeling from the effects of the rejection of the Mac Bride Commission report on the proposed New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO). How do you relate to the findings of that report particularly the dominance of North-South flow of information by strengthening South-South co-operation in information dissemination? A: That has been always an unfortunate incident of human history that initiatives like that do not see the light. I am very familiar with the Mac Bride Commission as a scholar and it is really unfortunate that those recommendations could not go through. Despite that I think now there is a realisation that although we are not using that recommendation as it is, there is another way of using it. If you look at the media development initiative that is coming up which is part of the global media programme you find out that there is a paradigm shift of focusing energy towards Africa, particularly development media. Media is a developmental tool and has to grow. Currently there is a research being done by Rhodes University looking at media development in sub-Saharan Africa to determine where we are as a media, what our needs are and how we can develop. For me this presents an opportunity for the media to increase the flow of information from the region. The problem is also with ourselves in that there are no media institutions except yours which have taken the challenge to say we are going to Africanise ourselves because when you start Africanising yourselves some people think you are dumping quality when you are simply trying to reflect the voices of the African people. There are organisations which are trying to assist media institutions that take that challenge. My challenge will be to bring together all stakeholders so that we can begin to promote the African agenda. Donors, I think, give us money so that we can become African in our operations. Q: Your activities are concerned only with elite issues of media freedom, but you are silent on the issue of foreign media ownership in Southern Africa. Can you say you are advocating the right kind of freedom? A: We are now moving towards addressing grassroots issues. As you know MISA was initiated by editors. It has for long been an editors’ organisation and editors have grandiose issues. Our membership has grown to include junior media practitioners and we are moving away from dealing with elitist issues. This is a challenge and we have a long way to go. Any organisation has its own history and I think we need to gradually become more comprehensive and inclusive. Foreign ownership of media in the region is problematic. It is something we need to address critically. There is no way you can say we are African in context if ownership is not African. If you take a look at some of the foreign media in South Africa you can see the outlook and where they are moving towards. There is need to move ownership away from foreigners. Q: An analysis of the activities of your various chapters shows that you have often encroached into areas of governance. For example your Zimbabwe Chapter is highly politicised to the extent of endorsing opposition politics at the expense of media development, while in Botswana you virtually drew up that country’s broadcasting policy. How do you respond to concerns that you are an instrument of neo-colonial expansion in Southern Africa? A: We are not. Zimbabwe is highly politicised so there is no way MISA in Zimbabwe cannot be politicised. The unfortunate thing is that because of the nature of the politics in Zimbabwe we need to resonate with other people who feel that they are being oppressed. The politics of governance is an issue of rights, and this is a media rights organisation and there is no way we cannot get involved. Q: Having just taken over as MISA regional director, what is your game plan and what are your immediate priorities? A: I want to engage governments in the region and anybody who is interested in human rights. I feel that I need to be proven wrong by governments that we can not work together. I am ready to work with them. I need to influence change and share ideas and experiences. I have already had a meeting with Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Namibia, His Excellency Stanislaus Chigwedere and I told him that I was really interested in seeing the Minister of Information and Publicity in Zimbabwe (Dr Tichaona Jokonya). It is something that I am determined to take up and I think I would be the first MISA regional director to go and see the information minister in Zimbabwe. Q: How do you hope to build or improve on already existing relations between MISA and governments in Southern Africa, some of which think you are in concert with their detractors? A: We will engage ourselves more with the SADC secretariat. We have participated at the SADC conference here. We need to work together and strengthen our co-operation. We have already met the Prime Minister of Namibia and we are planning on a courtesy call to the President of Namibia. All these initiatives should send a message to the entire region that we mean business and we need to harmonise relations. Q: How do you respond to allegations that MISA is biased against public media practitioners and that you tend to have a soft spot for the so-called independent media? There are many journalists in the public media who have been paying MISA members for years but have never benefited from your programmes. How do you explain this? A: I think things have changed quite a lot. In the past government media institutions were not allowed to be members of MISA. Now the policy has changed and it is open to anybody to join MISA. Our records will show that we have engaged the public media quite a lot, lately. We have held workshops with them. The Namibia Broadcasting Corporation has benefited a lot and we have invited public media practitioners from Zimbabwe to our workshops. However I admit that that is not enough. We need to outreach more. But you know that MISA was established by the independent media. The founding fathers came from the private sector. None of them were from government funded media so that inclination will always be there, more so because private media practitioners are freer to join MISA and to engage in its activities. There is also a lot of self-censorship among public media practitioners; some think if they join MISA their governments will censor them when in most cases there is no threat. It is something that we certainly need to work on. Your coming here to interview me shows that we can relax and share ideas. We need to push the boundaries more, though, and deal with perceptions. Q: What is MISA’s definition of media freedom? A: It is the constitutionally enshrined right of the media to gather and disseminate information. We are fighting for those countries whose constitutions do not guarantee this right to include it. Q: Do you think media freedom is well understood by the media practitioners? A: Very much well understood. It is the right of the media to exist, publish, write and be able to allow other voices to come through. However I always have a problem with people who tend to confuse ethical issues with rights issues. Freedom of expression is not an ethical issue. It is a human rights issue. It is the right to write whatever you like but the limitation is quite clear; either through legal or ethical processes.

May 2006
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