NAMIBIA: UN Takes Issue With Advert

Friday, July 9, 2010
The Namibian
Southern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Globally, the media have embraced the understanding that freedom of expression and of opinion carries duties and obligations. This was especially well learnt within cultures that suffered from racial vilification and oppression. It has equally been the case in all countries as they combat the persistence of gender-based violence and abuse.

For the UN System, this extends to our own practices at country level, with repeated reminders from the UN Secretary General of ‘zero tolerance' in areas of racial oppression and sexual exploitation. This includes the portrayal in the media of images that perpetuate - intentionally or otherwise - violence against women and girls and racial minorities.

The recent (Friday 2 July) advertisement for a legal firm published in The Namibian is especially alarming in that it graphically portrays both gratuitous attitudes towards women in the photograph used, as well as a message of physical violence toward women being an acceptable means of commercial messaging.

We expect legal firms to uphold high standards of corporate social responsibility in such matter. Human rights (including for women) are, after all, legal rights. Such corporate responsibilities extend to advertising companies that devise such images and messages. This must be of greater concern in a country such as Namibia, where gender-based violence remains so prevalent and persistent.

UN agencies need to make decisions about which commercial entities they associate with in order to maintain the UN's own standards and obligations on matters of gender and racial equality. Obviously this extends to the UN's use of the media. Whilst much of the reaction to the recent legal firm advertisement has been focused on the advertising legal firm itself (for which, we note, this is not its first commercial exploitation of gratuitous and offensive attitudes towards women) the UN in Namibia also notes with considerable concern that The Namibian newspaper has already taken a decision to accept such an advertisement for publication.

The UN in Namibia has regularly recognised The Namibian's own efforts in promoting issues of children's and women's rights, as well as the rights of minorities.

Its decision to run this advertisement is thus of some concern to the UN. I would appreciate your newspaper's response as to its own ethical guidelines on such matters in the context of national media standards.