Lusaka, October 13, 2023—The management of Namibia’s New Era newspaper should immediately rescind the suspension of the paper’s managing editor Johnathan Beukes and allow the state-owned media outlet to operate independently, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On September 29, Christof Maletsky, CEO of state-owned New Era Publication Corporation, which publishes the daily newspaper, suspended Beukes until October 31 over an editorial critical of the judiciary, three journalists who saw the suspension letter told CPJ, on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisals.
In the suspension letter, Maletsky raised issues regarding non-compliance with New Era’s mandate and the overall professional conduct of the newspaper, according to the journalists. Maletsky barred Beukes from making public statements about his suspension and from entering New Era’s offices in Windhoek, the capital, those sources said.
“Johnathan Beukes’ suspension raises serious questions about the editorial independence of New Era, a taxpayer-funded publication,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator, Angela Quintal, in New York. “Beukes must be allowed to resume work immediately, and New Era’s management should allow the publication’s editors and journalists to exercise their editorial judgment and to keep the public informed without interference or censorship.”
On October 2, the newspaper published a front-page apology to the judiciary, saying it had “published stories and an editorial that fell way below the standards that we had set ourselves.” It referred to an editorial that “painted a picture of a non-transparent commission with regards to the selection of a judge for the Fishrot corruption trial.” The Fishrot case involves an international scandal over alleged corruption in the country’s fishing quota system that has ensnared former government ministers.
On September 29, New Era published an editorial, which CPJ reviewed, alleging the judiciary lacked transparency in its public communications over the appointment of judges and questioning why it never responded to demands for transparency in its decisions.
John Nakuta, Namibia’s Media Ombudsman, whose office is mandated with hearing complaints against the media, said that he would review the content of the editorial but not the suspension decision, following a referral from the local press freedom organization Editors’ Forum of Namibia, The Namibian newspaper reported.
Maletsky told CPJ via messaging app that the matter was an internal process that should be allowed to run its course.