Saturday, July 24, 2021

Airwaves regulator plays different tune on public radio

The Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) plays a different tune on the use of diverse languages favouring tertiary campus radios over dominant public airwaves. The Campus Radio Licensing Framework document published this year suggests that campus radios will be allowed to use different languages in the country and those in the carricula of various tertiary institutions. Some tertiary institutions in the country offer various language courses.  

“It is important that broadcasting promotes languages that are used in Botswana and/or taught in the institutions in order to promote identity, cultural diversity and national pride. Campus Radio broadcasting would be the platform to drive this imperative by providing for different languages within their capacity. The languages used in this should reflect the language needs and choices of the audiences that they serve,” the document states suggesting that even some minority languages would be used.  The document says the “language situation in Botswana is trifocal with Setswana being the highest spoken language, English being the second and the minority languages coming next.” “Botswana is a multilingual country with approximately 28 languages. Setswana (Tswana) is the national language of Botswana, spoken by most of the populace. English is the official language, spoken by majority of the population,” the document says. 

Regarding content, the document says  local content quota for Campus radio stations shall not be below 55% and will be revised from time to time. According to the document, it is important that as BOCRA gradually liberalises the broadcasting market, a licensing framework be developed that will facilitate the licensing of non-commercial broadcasters. “This framework is expected to promote diversity in the sector and bring about the much needed competition and efficiency in the provision of broadcasting services. Institutions of learning will equally benefit from the opening of the market as they will get an opportunity to give their students a practicak experience in their campus radio stations,” the document reads in part. It states that campus radio offers several benefits both strategically and pedagogically.

It is a strategic advantage as it is a key medium for tertiary schools to reach out and interact with the students. Campus Radio also place local tertiary schools at a competitive edge when compared with other schools outside the country hence these will be able to attract international students. Pedagogically,  the document says, it is an excellent initiative to improve multimedia radio class projects like content production, news and current affairs, advertising and the general application of broadcasting principles. 

According to BOCRA, the objective of rolling out Campus radios is to provide tertiary schools with the opportunity to have a platform which students can use during training while being sharpened to work in the industry. Currently both state and commercial stations have to start with on-the-job-training, and coaching of the actual operations of broadcasting equipment and the sensitivity of live broadcasting.  “The Campus Radio is also a platform used to reach the school community (students, lecturer, other staff members) for efficient information dissemination,” says BOCRA. 

The regulator believes that campus radio allows for an inclusive atmosphere within the school environment. It encourages interaction, co-operation and communication within the school. It has been established that audiences are attracted to content which they can relate to and has impact on their daily lives. The student community serves as a viable market that needs to have access to broadcasting services which are tailor made to their needs, BOCRA says.  With regard to funding, BOCRA says the Campus radios should be funded by the institution and may be funded through sponsorships, donations, fundraising and/or advertising. The regulator says it must however be noted that although advertising will be permitted, it will be limited to generating enough to augment the operation budget the campus radio and is not meant to generate profit or exorbitant surplus. 

“Advertising will only be restricted to those adverts that are relevant to Student community. Advertising revenue should only constitute 50% of the operating costs of the campus radio station. Apart from the above funding models, Campus radios may engage volunteers, i.e. the unpaid labour and expertise of local residents who are committed to the campus radio station. Political parties or electoral candidates shall not be engaged in operating the Campus radio station, including participation in campus political activities,” BOCRA says. 

It says: “Institutions must carry out a separation of accounts in order for the Authority to be better positioned to assess the general performance of the Campus radios in the market and impact,” adding that  “Funding from political parties or electoral candidates is prohibited.” BOCRA says “campus radio will be required to adhere to the existing Codes that govern the broadcasting sector, including but not limited to Code of Conduct for Broadcasters, Code of Conduct for Advertising, Code of Conduct for Election Coverage and Prohibition of Party Political anything.” 

BOCRA further stated that campus radio may only be licensed for local coverage, i.e., coverage area of a terrestrial broadcasting transmitter confined to locality within a town/village and does not exceed a radius of 3km from the transmitter. In some cases, BOCRA says, a tertiary school may wish to serve two or more campuses in close proximity (but nonetheless separate) that are in common ownership and form different parts of the same institution.  “This is permissible but requires the applicant to install a separate transmitter at each site. If the campuses to be served are within 3km of each other, they may be served by the same Campus Radio licence,” BOCRA says.  

In 2014, former legislator Bagalatia Arone’s motion calling on government to introduce multi-lingual news broadcasting for all languages with developed orthographies was rejected by Parliament.

Presenting the motion, the former  Okavango legislator who defected from opposition Botswana Congress Party to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party argued that “since Batswana lived in a country that is multi-tribal and multi-lingual, they should feel proud to identify themselves without fear or shame.”

He said then that different languages could enhance unity and diversity and motivate citizens to appreciate effectively the development of their country; also citizens can easily identify with broadcasting that reflects their own culture and heritage.

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