Government exclusive rights over the broadcast of the 13 December judgement in which Basarwa leader, Roy Sesana and others seek land rights at the Botswana’s Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve have raised eyebrows in the journalists’ and legal community.
An announcement on the Department of Botswana Information Technology website on the ‘judgement of the government Vs Basarwa’ case says: –
“The department of Broadcasting Services has exclusive broadcasting rights to the judgement which will take place on the 13th December 2008 at the High Court in Lobatse”.
According to the government’s Director of Information Services, Bapasi Mphusu, the department ‘did not even apply for exclusive rights. This was granted by the High Court itself. This happens all over the world,” he said in a telephone interview Friday morning.
Asked why the information department charged high prices for purchase of access to their footage on the judgement, Mphusu replied that the government wants to ‘share’ costs of linkages to facilities that make broadcasting possible.
According to the department’s website: “Uplink will be available to interested broadcasters in the region and nationwide. The footage and audio will be available as well”.
The charges for the services are: –
ÔÇó US $ 50, 000.00 for the three hours of uplink excluding turnaround from PAS 7
ÔÇó US $ 10.00 per minute for satellite space for SNG
ÔÇó US 100.00 per minute for news clips including audio for radio broadcasting.
The government acquired the broadcasting rights for free.
At Ditshwanelo, Botswana Human Rights Center, Alice Mogwe concurs with Mphusu that normal conduct of court proceedings disallows activity that could be disruptive to the process of dispensing justice.
Generally, the court will have discretion over who may or may not be allowed to broadcast from inside its premises, they point out.
Mogwe believes that if the Gaborone Broadcasting company, a privately owned television station had asked the High Court for permission to broadcast first, they would have been allowed to do so.
Asked: “Why do you believe that?” she responded: “ Because the court is a neutral institution that would not be biased in determining who should or should not have access to its proceedings”.
President of the Botswana Media Workers Union (BOMEWU), Letswhiti Thutwane, was the most outspoken of the commentators.
“This is an unfortunate and grotesque blemish on the image of the country’s administration of justice, the Ministry of Science Technology and Communications (responsible on government for the media) and especially the courts in particular,” he commented.
“What does this imply for the access of the private broadcasters to the process of dispensation of justice in this country?” he asked.
“It is completely contrary to the spirit of open court that this country has been accustomed to,” says Thutwane.
“Usually, the courts will limit the activity of the media during its proceedings in the interest of protecting witnesses, juries and children for the purpose of ensuring that the process of carrying out justice is not interfered with.
“In this case, it is not clear who the court wants to protect (by granting exclusive broadcasting rights to the state press),” Letshwiti said.
The state owns the greatest portion of the media in Botswana. Could this be responsible for the current behaviour of the courts? Letshwiti was asked.
“Evidently, the government dominates all the areas of gate-keeping even in respect of dissemination of information and upholding the principle of open court.
“It really does not matter whether you have a good minister or not. This is a matter of policy and the public will continue to pay a high price for the current shape of the media.
“One wonders whether the authorities take advice from the lawyers among them including Minister Phandu Skelemani and the Attorney General,” comments Letshwiti.
A senior private legal practitioner speculates: “Perhaps this decision was made to give the government a monopoly of celebration in the event that it was successful in the case.
“Otherwise, the government probably wants to be in control of the publicity given to the case in case it was embarrassed by the impending judgement,” he says.