The Minister of Transport & Communications, Frank Ramsden, is reported as recently having launched a scathing attack on private media houses and made threats of war. What war? By who against who? Over what?
Was Mr Ramsden, whose portfolio responsibilities include communications, announcing the escalation of the BDP Government’s policy on its onslaught on press freedom? We need to know in direct and clear terms whether this is so.
Mr Ramsden accuses the private press of bias, negative reporting, and sensationalism. The temerity of it!
The BDP has shamelessly privatized Btv and Radio Botswana, which have become its mouthpieces at state expense. These media and the human resources that operate them, working under the most stringent supervision calculated to maximize the interests, not of the country but of the BDP, are bias personified. They are the very epitome of bias.
And yet Mr Ramsden dares complain of bias reporting.
The staff of Btv and Radio Botswana is working under the most difficult conditions, dire circumstances which have stripped them of all professional dignity.
They are forced, because they need to earn a living for themselves and their families, to undermine the very essence of their profession on a daily basis. We understand their circumstances, and assure them that we will, some day, liberate them from their shackles and restore them to proper journalistic ethics.
Yes, we know that there is no negative reporting on Btv and Radio Botswana, save when it is directed at undermining the interests of democracy in our country.
When the President and his lieutenants wish to take time off to bash the private press and political personalities whose souls they do not own, the severest form of negative reporting happens on Btv and Radio Botswana.
When the President and those who exist to serve him crave sensationalism, they go to Btv and Radio Botswana to make it happen. And Mr Ramsden has the gall to accuse the private press of sensationalism!
The media, both Government and private, have a sacred responsibility to inform the nation of all that is important which takes place in our country, and to do so honestly, faithfully, and professionally. Press freedom is one of the three legs of the three-legged pot that is democracy.
There can be no democracy without the Media, Parliament and the Judiciary performing their role uncompromisingly, the Government being only an implementing functionary of obeisance that ensures that the values espoused and upheld by these institutions of democracy are optimized.
News and the truth include the positive and the negative, and occasionally lend themselves to sensation. They all must, without selection, be published to the country, which must form its own judgment. Nothing could be healthier for a functioning democracy, and all things contrary are anathema to democracy.
We at the BMD call on the BDP Government to repeal the Media Practitioner’s Act, and to enact Freedom of Information legislation. We ask the BDP Government, if they have nothing to hide as they frequently proclaim, to open up and bare all to the public by giving the media, public and private, equal access to information.
We ask them to free the professional staff of Btv and Radio Botswana to enable them to do their work in the best interests of the country. We ask the Government to engage with the private press, who seldom fail to give the BDP and its Government the opportunity to state their case to the public on any subject of public importance that arises.
We ask the private media to carry on unimpeded, acting professionally and fairly at all times, unfailingly telling all sides of any story to the public. That should include the version of the BDP and of the Government, the positive and the negative alike.
These are the policy principles that BMD espouses, and as no doubt do all democratic forces in our country. These are the policy principles for which BMD and a coalition of workers and all opposition parties will peaceably fight for outside Government, and will steadfastly enforce when in Government.
We call on all democratic forces in our country, who of necessity include the BCP, the BMD, the BNF, the BPP, MELS, and the movements of workers, to establish a standing forum which should organize our people to put pressure on the BDP Government to promote and uphold the freedom of the Press and all values essential to a modern and functioning democracy.
The establishment of such a forum should constitute the beginnings of a unity of purpose that our country so urgently needs.
We assure the private press that they need pay scarce attention to threats and intimidation by the BDP and its Government. They must unflinchingly get on with the business of the fourth estate without fear. Re teng! Batswana must also fearlessly write and speak out. Re teng! As for any war that bo- Minister Ramsden threaten, ba tla e lwa ba le nosi; rona we have no war with anybody, and we have no war to fight. We have only the future of our country and our people to safeguard and protect, and this we shall do unstoppably with our hearts, our voices and our pens!
*Pilane is spokesperson for the Botswana Movement for Democracy