Each Wednesday, the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Windhoek celebrates women and their accomplishments. This Wednesday, UNIC Windhoek celebrates Mariana Balt, the Coordinating Editor of the Windhoek Express (WE).
Besides writing and editing countless articles throughout her extensive career in media, Balt has worked in many different sectors. After growing up in Namibia, Balt finished school and studied Home Economics at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. At that time, working in the media was the last thing she wanted to do, as she found herself working in a prison and as a home economist for several organisations upon graduation.
“I got involved with journalism purely because I could take photos (at the time a very expensive hobby) on somebody else’s account” Balt says, laughing at her serendipitous entry into the media world. From there she worked in the media industry, writing and editing in South Africa, before returning to Namibia to work for Namibia Media Holdings, the company that owns WE.
WE is a weekly community newspaper for Windhoek and its surroundings – including Rehoboth, Okahandja and Gobabis. “As community newspaper, WE publishes news and stories about interesting people, events, schools, sport clubs, movers and shakers in the community and everything interesting!” Balt says.
Since the WE is a free newspaper, Balt and her team provide the Namibian public with the freedom of information at no cost. This is in line with the goals of World Press Freedom Day, which aims to generate awareness that the freedom of information is a fundamental freedom and a human right.
In light of World Press Freedom Day, which was commemorated under the theme, ‘Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms – This Is Your Right!’ last week, Balt shares her thoughts on the freedom of the press and information.
“Like with all kinds of freedom, press freedom needs to be handled with responsibility. Although journalists can’t prescribe to readers what they may or may not read, we have the responsibility to provide news in a fair, dignified way,” Balt says.
She adds, “There is a big difference between information that is just interesting to people (gossip) and information that may enrich, educate, inform, enlighten or equip them.”
Balt has worked at all levels in the newsroom, from junior journalist to editor. During her experience, she has found that her gender has provided her with a few challenges in the media industry.
“In general, being even a community journalist for 15 years in South Africa, I encountered more dangerous or challenging situations, than perhaps a main stream journalist here in Namibia (or in many other countries), but nothing that I couldn’t handle,” Balt says.
She continues, “On occasion however, being a female journalist was a bit awkward or even dangerous, like when I suddenly had to photograph a final rugby match while dressed in high heels for an important interview or had to drive into plantations all alone in the middle of the night when called by police to go and witness the arrests of dangerous criminals.”
Balt shares that she has had a different experience in Namibia, saying that, “As a community journalist, being a woman is not a drawback, rather beneficial, since people tend to ‘open up’ more easily towards a sympathetic woman.”
Although Balt faced challenges, she was still able to build three community newspapers and runs the busy WE newsroom seamlessly. Balt is responsible for weekly content choice as well as ensuring that, “Either me or the two other dedicated journalists working on WE know about, attend and cover events wherever possible, that we find and interview interesting people to tell their stories and make every week’s edition a worthwhile read.”
Balt encourages girls pursuing their dreams to, “Carefully consider every opportunity that you find and decide wisely. An opportunity is only a “good” one if you take it and it pays off in the way you intended it to.”
Happy to be back in Namibia and enjoying her life with her family, Balt says, “Subsequently, we found ourselves back in Namibia, truly enjoying our time travelling and exploring the beautiful, unique and extraordinary scenery of the country. And now we have a new mobile home! Yes, we are now proud owners of an AHA camper and keen members of the SKI (Spending the Kids’ Inheritance) club.”
Balt inspires those in her newsroom in a daily basis and cares deeply for her family, while working hard to provide engaging content for the Namibian people. She lives each day by her life mottos which include:
‘Care. For people, for nature, for animals, for everything, just CARE!’
‘In a world where you can be anything, be kind’
‘Learn from mistakes – not only from your own, but also from those that others make’
‘If you are looking to find God, your luck is in, because if you look around, you can’t miss Him.’