Sunday, September 27, 2020

Advice to DIS & BGCIS

There is a deep seated mistrust going around in government circles. Perhaps the mistrust qualifies more as an accusation. The anxiety is that the private press is tarnishing the image of the country through their hostile articles which damage the national image abroad. The private press ‘ba e leng bana ba rona’ repeatedly question the nation’s moral high ground and have the audacity to compare the nation’s democratic credentials with those of Mugabe and those of that stick-wielding president of Sudan. Is the government under siege from its own?

Is the private press bent on destroying their country’s standing in the international plane? The “misinformation” travels fast and reaches foreign lands as most local newspapers are now also available online. Because of these reports, we are told, in the past few months Botswana has changed from being the beacon of hope and the lighthouse of democratic ideals in Conrad’s Heart of darkness.

Last year, apart from His Excellency Tautona, the DIS attracted much negativity from private press. Both the president and DIS are fairly new on the national scene. It is difficult to think of a positive story on the DIS written by the private press in 2009. BGCIS, particularly Jeff Ramsay, was kept busy most of 2009 correcting much ‘misinformation’ peddled by the private media. His central focus was to protect the national image.

DIS should attract our confidence and pride.

However because of reports of torture and killings which were linked with its operations, it attracted much apprehension. DIS was established to protect the country. Why would the private press then trash such an important national institution? It is partly because DIS is perceived as driving a different agenda. It is seen as restricting national liberties, terrorising and torturing suspects and spying on every citizen. Part of the blame should fall squarely on the DIS’ lap. DIS has failed to prioritise information flow, especially data that portrays its activities in good light.

The private press also feels strongly that the government does not willingly release information that is in the national interest. Instead the government denies even basic facts which in a matter of days or weeks are usually confirmed as true. Second, the private journalists’ principal interest is to report abuses, threats and appearances of abuses and threats to individual freedoms. Like the government, they are interested in protecting the national interest by securing national ideals.

The best way to do on their part is to report in their publications any erosion or abuse of these ideals. They therefore work with the information they possess whether limited or complete. The government and private journalists are therefore interested in the same thing but from tense opposite angles. The private press demands information; the government is economical with it. This breeds mistrust and suspicion. So what can be said to DIS, BGCIS and the private press?

First let us start from this important assumption: both the private press and the government love the country equally. None loves the country more than the other. This assumption is critical for if one claims supreme love for the country over another then they will assume the position of guardians of the state, while demonising those who hold a different view as enemies of the state.

Second, DIS and BGCIS need to appreciate the power of information ÔÇô the incredible power of the written and spoken word. DIS like all successful spy organisations of the world should publicise its successes in neutralising all hostilities against the country. It should hold frequent press conferences to update the public on its activities so that the public will grow in confidence and trust of its activities.

It is critical that DIS works with the private press as a partner and not an enemy. The private press is not irrelevant and expendable.

Any attempt of changing the image of DIS and that of the country will involve the private press. It is upon DIS and BGCIS to find better find ways of establishing partnership with the private press in exposing crime and safe guarding the country. Strained hostilities and unending wars will not better the country. The private press also need to think about matters of national security carefully. They don’t have to censor themselves, but they do need to be sensitive to reports which may put the government in bad light and compromise ongoing investigations.

BGCIS must also minimise denials and counter stories. They must instead pre-empt stories which could be sensationalised if they fell in the hands of the private press. Instead of holding back, BGCIS should release periodic reports to the media and hold weekly press briefings. They should befriend journalists and not fight them.

BGCIS should literally flood both the government press and the private press with government information. After all, ours is a government of the people by the people. Such interactivity with the media will release unnecessary tension and create dialogue between the government and the private press. The private press is not the government’s enemy; neither is the government the enemy of the private press. While these two are at each others’ throat criminality, corruption, terrorism will abound.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.