The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has prevailed over private radio station Gabz FM to suspend its morning show host Reginald Richardson and his producer Keikantse Shumba.
The Morning show duo was suspended last week after the BDP lodged a complaint with the Gabz FM management for airing a voice over clip of an alleged meeting between Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi and some Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) councilors and members. The recorded tape was aired on the station’s morning show, Breakfast with Reg.
Sunday Standard is in possession of a complaint letter filed by the BDP’s Communications Chairman Thapelo Pabalinga addressed to Gabz FM Executive Lesego Komanyane in which he demands an apology from the radio station. Pabalinga’ alleges that there was no attempt by the suspended pair to contact the party during the show.
“ I am extremely disappointed and deserve an apology from your station based on the untrue statement that was made on Breakfast with Reg this morning where Reginald Richardson said on his show that he tried to get a hold of representatives from BDP,” stated Pabalinga.
Pabalinga added that “He (Richardson) alleges that he tried to call the party Chairman, Party SG and Communications Chairman being myself. There has never been an attempt to contact me either through my phone nor (sic) email.”
Pabalinga believes that this was “deliberate to have the BDP’s voice absent. A day before the interview certain known BMD activists were advertising on Facebook that Hon Mangole would be broadcast live on breakfast with Reg on Monday 1st November 2016 at 720 am something that clearly shows that opposition parties were invited much earlier and notified of the interview whereas us at BDP we never get given the same opportunity.”
According to Pabalinga “Last week I sent you an email asking why Gabz Fm never attends BDP press conferences but seemingly never miss opposition ones.”
Pabalinga said this was consistent with “what just transpired this morning where discussion that involve the BDP are held in the absence of a voice from BDP and this we believe is deliberate.”
He further stated that “I am one person who is always available to answer any calls from media and therefore want you to note our concern and request that you either show us when you tried to reach me (sic).”
Pabalinga demanded that “In the absence of that I strongly request that you apologise for misleading the public and certainly telling lies using the party position I currently hold.”
The suspension of the duo has stoked public perception that “the BDP has captured the radio station.” Recently some listeners called in, lambasting Richardson for softening up, saying they ‘miss’ his hard-hitting interviews and accusing him of being ‘captured.’
Sunday Standard can reveal that before the recent suspensions, Gabz Fm management held several meetings with officials from the Office of the President over the morning show. Present at the meetings were Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi, Deputy Permanent Secretary and Government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay and Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President.
Although they did not commit their threat in writing, it is understood that government officials informed Gabz FM management that unless Richardson was fired, government would not advertise with the station.
Reached for comment, Morupisi insisted that he was in a meeting while Ramsay was non-committal. “Yes we have meetings with different people at the Office of the President,” he said.
Asked to confirm if earlier this year they hosted a delegation from Gabz FM, Ramsay said while he could not recall what the story was about, it was something to do with a story that was deemed unbalanced.
The Gabz FM management also held several meetings with the BDP over the morning show where they repeated the threat that they would not advertise on Gabz Fm if it does not get rid of Richardson
It is understood that there had also been instances where officials both from government and parastatals refused to appear on Richardson’s show at the instance of government. Sunday Standard is also in possession of names of some state companies that have also informed Gabz FM management that they would not deal with the radio station until further notice. It also emerged at the meetings that Parastatals had been instructed not to deal with media houses that are deemed critical of Government among them Gabz FM and Sunday Standard.
Sunday Standard has also unearthed information that the BDP had been looking for ways to have Richardson dismissed since the election debates in 2014. But the radio station management stood its ground because “he is one of their valuable assets.”
In the build up to the 2014 general elections, Gabz Fm invited candidates to participate in the debates and the program was sponsored by the American Embassy. BDP refused to participate in the debates.
“There have been a number of complaints from BDP functionaries to have Richardson fired. The Gabz FM management should be applauded for being bold enough to withstand the pressure and should they replace Richardson in the morning show their audience base is likely to shrink,” said a source.
Pabalinga confirmed that he wrote a letter to Gabz FM management expressing his concerns over allegations that the station had attempted to contact him.
“I don’t have a problem with whatever they air on their station, whether the story is one sided (sic) is not an issue to me. My problem is with the lies they are peddling to the effect that they attempted to reach me on my phone and they couldn’t,” he said. Pabalinga would not want to discuss allegations that his party had been looking for ways to have Reginald fired. “I’m not aware of that and I don’t want to get into that,” he said.
Asked if he takes responsibility for the suspension of the two private radio station employees, Pabalinga said “I don’t think they were suspended because of my complaint.”
“Generally I would be surprised if they were suspended on the basis of my complaint. My complaint is not a transgression that can warrant suspensions; but who knows the Gabz Fm management might look at it differently,” he said.
Komanyane’s mobile phone rang unanswered. Contacted for a comment, Gabz FM Programs Manager Kenneth Moeng said “I can’t confirm or deny anything. If there is anything happening it is still an internal matter.”
It is still not clear how Gabz will navigate the storm. Recently Sunday Standard reported on a confidential document marked “Investigation Notice” dated September 23, 2016 written by BOCRA’s Chief Executive Officer Thari Pheko addressed to Gabz FM Executive Director Lesego Komanyane.
The letter informs Komanyane that a decision has been made “to conduct an investigation on Gabz FM following an alleged contravention of Section 37 of the Communications Regulatory Act (CRA) Act, Regulation11 of the Broadcasting Regulations and part 4 of your license condition clause 14”.
Section 37 states that “without prejudice to the provisions of section 178 of the Penal Code a licensee shall, where a programme to be broadcast or re-broadcast, is not suitable to be exhibited to children, advise or warn members of the public accordingly.”
BDP has had running battles with Gabz FM in the past. At some stage BDP high ranking officials forced Gabz FM to apologise after airing a live programme in which Richardson, had asked Masisi to clarify reports that he allegedly toyed with a condom during a Parliamentary session.
The apology followed a discussion in a morning show, called the Solid Morning Drive, hosted by Richardson and Tshepo Ntshole.
Richardson asked Masisi to clarify an incident that apparently happened in Parliament in which he allegedly toyed with a condom. Masisi replied that the media had blown the issue out of proportion by suggesting that.
“I was not playing with it as suggested in the media, the media made it as if I was blowing it,” Masisi explained.
Richardson insisted: “Minister were you blowing it?” to which Masisi replied, “Are you silly?”
Some senior members of the BDP called the Gabz FM management demanding that the station apologise for the discussion about the condom incident describing it as “distasteful and against cultural norms”.
It is understood that Komanyane buckled under pressure and hastily issued a memo instructing Richardson and Ntshole to render an apology to their listeners and Masisi on behalf of the radio station.