Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Covid-19 requires the media get on the side of the people

By their very nature press conferences are used to drive home the message or in the case of a crisis management, to allay public fears.

No press conference should ever be called to say “we wanted to tell you everything is normal.”

Where a press conference is routine, still there has to be an update on what has happened since the previous one.

In short press conferences should provide information to the public, and not be used for showboating.

At the moment Covid-19 press conferences, both at Botswana Television and also on radio stations have become shows for cabinet ministers, Covid-19 Committee members and also the media as intimate players.

The upshot of it all is that the listening public is left bemused, not knowing exactly what purposes these press conferences serve.

Journalists are supposed to ask questions, not for themselves but on behalf of the public they are supposed to represent.

But since these press conferences started, watching from afar has really been an eye opener.

It looks all glib.

It all looks rehearsed. The media, sadly looks more and more a part of it all.

And for me, there is not much pride in calling myself a journalist.

The questions asked go a long in exposing the shallowness of journalists. The questions expose their obsession with playing to the gallery.

More fundamentally the questions expose the extent to which our journalists still need to read to acquaint themselves with basic subjects of public concern.

After the latest press conference, I texted one of them that we might need to send back to school over half of our practicing journalists. And for the first time he agreed with me.

He said he too was disappointed by the quality and inappropriateness of the questions.

Coronavirus has been a global topic now for almost six months. Yet for many journalists here they are still struggling to internalize and localize the pandemic.

Questions asked on national television range from the mundane to the eccentric – leaving ordinary Batswana all the poorer.

Resource experts brought to make briefings are themselves altogether unhelpful.

Having realized that journalists help their cause, which is to confuse the public, officials consistently resort to boilerplate statements that are not only unhelpful to ordinary citizens but too often deliberately untrue.

A national scandal is unfolding right before our eyes, and those in power are getting away with murder – unintentionally aided and abetted by a semi-illiterate media that cannot focus itself more on the basic practicalities and less on quack-like theories.

Government has budgeted for millions to be used to buy people food as part of the Covid-19 relief. Yet more and more people are starving in their homes – unable to go out and fend for themselves and waiting for imaginary officials that never arrive.

There’s no doubt that money has been spent. And that for a lot of people, no food has been delivered.

Ministers continue to spew as gospel what they say are commitments to saving multitudes of Batswana from hunger.

And almost loyally, the media parrots and regurgitates such comments. Lacking are the voices of people locked inside homes that are barely making it.

To hungry ordinary Batswana, many of who it remains to make sense of the whole farce nothing is more provocative than a media that twice a week meets their ruling elite live on national television to gloat and then gloss over national issues without offering simple solutions that could be understood by ordinary Batswana who religiously watch hoping for answers that never come.

Government continues to say that is food baskets are continuing very well and that anything to the contrary is false.

This insistence on falsehoods by government is creating two distinct universes for this country; one controlled and believed only by government and the other believed and lived by ordinary people.

Even in the middle of a pandemic that is supported by an enabling State of Emergency legal framework, this artificial world cannot continue forever. It has to stop somewhere. We cannot forever continue as a country living on a dichotomic world. Something has got to give.

Right now, wearing masks has been made mandatory by law. A few weeks ago before the lockdown even started people had started wearing masks on their own. They were explicitly discouraged by our experts from the Ministry of Health. By that time WHO was encouraging masks.

Where are the people expected to buy masks when they have been staying indoor for over a month?

Making masks obligatory comes in the backdrop of real and growing poverty for many people and at a time when worrying about where the next meal will come from has become an overriding imperative for many.

And the media will not be asking these questions because they don’t mean much to them or to their ideological friends in government.

These weekly press conferences provide a rhetorical cover to a covid-19 response that is fast degenerating into shambles.

The more one watches the comedy at play on Botswana Television, the more one is driven of suspecting a conspiracy.

These press conferences are now giving cover to what Donald Trump has often called a rigged system. The mere presence of journalists at these press conferences is cloaking the whole thing with some ill-deserved legitimacy.

Since Covid-19 started journalists have decoupled from the people.

There is still time for the media to redeem itself.

The easiest way to do so is to get on the side of the people.

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