Thursday, September 24, 2020

For the sake of the country government and the media should stop playing hardball

The relationship between government and the media, never warm to start with, has in the last few months deteriorated almost to the brink of total collapse.
Having stopped talking to each other, the two are now literally yelling at each other.

It would seem like the only thread of attachment keeping the two together is a reluctant admission by each that it needs the other.

There is no need to emphasise that however deep the resolve to stand up to the other, such a patently sour relationship is in the long run harmful to the country.

Unrepentantly, the President sees the media as “unaccountable and irresponsible” – a perception which drives an enduring contempt that borders on mutual hatred.

On the other hand, used to reporting from the inside track, the media snarls at being so crudely and arbitrarily cast off away from the corridors of power: its an unbearable snub, the painful feeling of which easily compares to that caused by personal betrayal.

The President does not understand what the fuss about the media is all about.
He searches in vain to identify their constituency, only to see an unelected, unethical, irresponsible and ultimately unaccountable lot.

Inevitably he has come to the conclusion that contrary to an exalted worldview of themselves as indispensable insiders, the media are spoiled brats, imbued with what is so clearly a misplaced and arrogant belief that they are an integral link between the government and the voter; hence a demand for what amounts to a divine right of access.

This annoys him even more since he can go straight to the voter and get unstanitised reviews of himself and his government directly from the public.
With neither party humble enough to admit its mistakes in the sordid drama, the whole episode has degenerated into a vicious cycle of accusations and counter accusations. Were it not a real life story involving real life people, it would be a fascinating plot for a great soap opera.

While the clash over territory is, strictly speaking, almost unavoidable, we are told its all the media’s fault; a group of spiteful and ungrateful liars who are hell bent on tarnishing the good name of the President.
The gloves are off, but we would do with some restraint.

By his account in the Botswana Guardian this week, President Ian Khama has tried a number of times to embrace the media, but to his utter personal disappointment he has found no partner on the other end waiting to receive him.
From reading his interview, one discerns a President personally hurt by a brusque press that is prepared and all too happy and willing to stoop to the lowest levels if only to achieve maximum injury on him and his government.

His attempts to break the ice and cultivate a working relationship have to his dismay been met with disparaging and demeaning personal attacks by a vindictive media that is driven by ulterior and possibly evil agendas.
This is in a big way instructive and revealing.

President Khama’s interview with The Botswana Guardian is a big leap in the right direction and the media should embrace it as such.
The interview has provided some very useful insight into the President’s thinking.

He is clearly worried by the negative media-driven perceptions about himself.
This has led him to conclude that some elements in the media have an agenda against him and his government.

Through the interview, he has also once again underscored his commitment to democracy and civil liberties.
Not for the first time the President says he is hurt by the media story line that he runs the government alone; his decisions are cabinet decisions, he says.

Having said all that, the next step now would be to identify the true reasons behind the negative publicity that is dogging the government.

It is important to note media interviews that do nothing to address pertinent issues that are of concern to a majority of Batswana will ultimately be exposed for public relations stunts that they are.

Thus a campaign of charm offensive will by itself not achieve much, let alone end negative publicity unless it is accompanied by a genuine willingness to substantively address the issues.
My assessment (and I say this with great diffidence) is that the media’s gripe is not Khama the man but rather the institutions he is creating and how they are being managed.

As I understand it, the media has no problems with Ian Khama the person but rather with his leadership style.
Because of their distinct and mutually parallel interests the media and government are naturally distrustful of each other’s motives.
This is not unique to Khama’s government.

As one renowned British politician once put it, for a politician to complain about the media is the same as a ship captain complaining about the sea.


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