Namibia: Government Admits Favouring State Media during Cuba Visit

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The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has admitted that it gives preference to state-owned media during state visits and national events. The admission came after an outcry over the "heavy-handed treatment" of a One Africa Television cameraman during the recent state visit of the Cuban President.

According to the cameraman, Sylvester Simubali, after the arrival of Cuban President Raul Castro Ruz at Hosea Kutako International Airport, a State Protocol official came to where he was positioned with other media - including Nampa, NBC, a Cuban media practitioner, and a State House photographer - and was told to stop filming.

He says when he questioned the order the Protocol official told him that "only state media could film the inspection of the guard of honour" and that "because he was from a private media house" he had to stop filming. Simubali says the order was accompanied by a threat to break his camera equipment, after which another Protocol official called the Police, who then manhandled him and banned him from filming.

However, the Information Ministry refutes Simubali's version of events. In a communique to the independent broadcaster, Information Permanent Secretary Mbeuta Ua-Ndjarakana states "the cameraman was never banned from filming the arrival of the Cuban Head of State".

According to him, Simubali left the designated media area and refused to return despite requests by the Chief of Protocol and the Chief of Security. Ua-Ndjarakana states: "Upon his refusal to do so, a uniformed policeman was called in to take him back to the designated area. However, your photographer refused to go to the designated area and chose to leave the airport instead." And he described Simubali's behaviour as an "embarrassment to the Namibian Government in full view of the Cuban advance team, diplomats and spectators".

In the communique Ua-Ndjarakana states that "it is true that NBC, as national broadcaster subsidised by the State, receives preferential treatment during state visits and national events" and adds "this is normal international practice, which we cannot change". (Quite where this is international practice - except in countries with only state media – is unclear).

One Africa Television Managing Director, Paul van Schalkwyk, told The Namibian that after questioning Simubali, he believes the cameraman was "at the receiving end of uncalled for treatment" and that it was not the first time the broadcaster was dealt "heavy-handed treatment". He said the broadcaster is addressing the incident with State Protocol.Van Schalkwyk told The Namibian that the station would accept an invitation by the Information Ministry to a meeting between news editors and Protocol and Directorate of VIP Security officials to discuss media presence at State and national events.