Sunday, September 20, 2020

Even Gov’t journalists should fight for their editorial independence

It was never our intention to talk about state interference in the operations of the state media.

That issue has been talked about for far too long. But, after the recent developments at Btv, we feel it would be irresponsible of us to let the issue pass without commenting on it.

It would be vain for us to complain to politicians for controlling or attempting to control journalists.
That is what we expect from all politicians.

It, therefore, is for journalists to resist such overtures.

Which is why this time we want to talk straight to journalists working for the state media.

This is not to say we have forgotten the statement made by the Director of Broadcasting Services, Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo, that they take orders from the state president.

We do not blame Kaboeamodimo for saying that, for he is only a victim of circumstances. The ideal situation, in a democratic dispensation, would have been for the state media not to be directly controlled by government, but rather to be run by an independent board that would direct its operations.

Before we delve into the gist of this editorial, we want to say there is a need for clarity of roles between BOPA (Botswana Press Agency) and the Daily News.

We hope BGCIS (Government Communication Information Systems) will come in handy.
Back to the issue at hand: Employees at the Botswana Press Agency and Department of Broadcasting Services must, however, ask themselves whether they are journalists or civil servants.
Under the circumstances it will be difficult to be both.
As the saying goes one is either fish or fowl, not both.

We sincerely hope that they choose journalism, for it is only then that they will be able to perform the sterling job that they are so much capable of, without state interference.

Political parties have in the past cried foul and complained about government’s control of the state media. They buried their heads in resignation when the state media was moved to the office of the president. There could only be one reason for this, control and more control.

We would have thought that the new leadership would accede to what many have been calling for and relinquish control of the state media. But alas, that was not to be. Instead, the state media was brought straight under the heartland of government, the Office of the President.

It was, therefore, surprising when this past week Btv dropped a bombshell, shelving a recording of a Matlho-a-Phage debate on constitutional review because the ruling Botswana Democratic Party was not represented.

Our information points to the fact that all 4 of the 5 invited guests or panelists had attended. In the past, recordings and broadcasts had gone ahead without the input of other invited stakeholders. Just what reason can Btv give to justify why they denied Batswana a chance to hear what their political representatives and, of course, independent minds like Ditshwanelo and political analysts, had to say about the obviously monolithic issue of constitutional review?

If the BDP found it fitting not to attend the debate, so be it. But Btv must exercise its mandate and inform Batswana, with or without the input of BDP. At the same time, Btv has set a very bad precedent, and they have also set themselves up for a fall. Have the goal posts changed now? Will Btv extend the same courtesy to other parties if they fail to honour appointments?

Obviously, that is what everybody else expects. Give unto the rest of us what you have given unto the BDP. This will make life very difficult for them in future.

Lastly, we appeal to the journalists who are working for the state media to introspect deeply and remember the ethics of their profession.

As journalists, if ever there is anything that is of highest value it is editorial independence.

In fact, that is all that journalists have as a source of their pride.

We stand proud because we have managed to resist temptations to be under any political control.

By so saying we hope we are not asking for too much from journalists working for the state media.

This is an appeal for introspection.
It is a call for them to remember the values that they are supposed to hold dear.

Many of the state media journalists are excellent people who have had illustrious and quite enviable careers.
We do not expect them to forgo their editorial independence and the journalist ethics that they hold so dear.

We expect them to remember that they are only beholden to the nation and not to one individual. It is only when they do so, that they will be able to stand tall and defend their ethics and editorial independence.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.