Monday, December 6, 2021

Gov’t backtracks on plans to blacklist National Geographic

The government has backtracked on earlier threats to blacklist National Geographic for filming illegally in Botswana .

Environment, Wildlife and Tourism,  Research Coordinator Gaoakanye Tapeng stated that though the National Geographic was not in possession of the permit to film in Botswana  they were able to use another environmental organisation filming permit. Tapeng had earlier stated that the  National Geographic  filming permit expired last month before their expedition  was completed in Botswana at Lake Xau in Boteti. Tapeng said that they made such conclusions since they were not aware that National Geographic  were doing filming using a permit that was issued to Wild Bird Trust ,Scientific Director Steve Boyes who was part of the expedition.

Tapeng further stated that the use of Wild Bird Trust by  National Geographic  for their expedition could not amount to fronting. Tapeng who had ealier promised that he will avail documentation relating to the permit used by National Geographic could not be reached after promising to avail documentation to verify if indeed the National Geographic was in possession of filming permit. Government took a decision to suspend the issuance of research,filming and photographic permits in monuments,game parks and protected areas in July this year.   However , Tapeng stated that since the National Geographic and Wild Bird Trust there was nothing wrong with the international media filming in Okavango. He denied that the government was giving  preferential treatment to National Geographic despite that they were not in possession of the filming permit. Government had suspended the issuance of permits after the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism raised concerns over  Safari Companies  who were getting permits where they front for international media. Some have argued that the  National Geographic was given preferential treatment over other international organizations  because of its association with President Ian Khama. Khama awarded , Beverly Joubert who is a wife to National Geographic film maker, Derick Jourbert a Presidential Order of Merit for work done for the enhancement of the reputation of Botswana through his photographic images. Derick Joubert has been accussed by some hunting safari owners for using his association with President Khama to influence the government to ban hunting in Botswana. The  National Geographic  filming expedition in Botswana comes after the government suspended the research, filming and photographic permits in game reserves, national monuments, game parks in Botswana.   According to the government the suspension were meant address a number of issues in relation to  research,filming and photography in game reserves, protected areas and national monuments. The government decried of an  unethical behaviour by some film makers and proffesional photographers as one of the reason behind the  suspension of environmental research, filming and photography.  In an interview,  Tapeng had earlier confirmed that the National Geographic team presence in Botswana was illegal. Tapeng said that as the only Ministry tasked with issuing permits they never issued a permit to National Geographic.  Tapeng admitted that the National Geographic filming in Okavango and Boteti was illegal an answer that he later regretted where he apologised for making such conclusions since the National Geographic names was not appearing on the database of those issued with filming permit.

“The permit that they are in possession of is not valid. They got a permit in April this year through Neil Gelinas  which expired in August 30 this year.  Therefore their filming permit is not valid,” added Tapeng. He threatened that the government will blacklist the National Geographic in future. 

He indicated that the prospects of the National Geography getting a permit to film in Botswana in future was minimal  since filmed in Botswana illegally. 

Tapeng  said that the suspension of the filming,photographic and research permits comes after it became evident that Botswana was losing a lot of money from international media who comes under the pretext that they are giving the country a mileage.

Tapeng said that international media such as National Geographic and BBC was taking advantage of low prices charged for obtaining film. “They are avoiding to go to other countries because they are charged exorbitant prices. Other countries are charging reasonable amount of money while we charge  P1000 for film making and photography to international media in our parks,game reserves,national monuments and protected areas,”added Tapeng.

Tapeng said that the perception that Botswana was getting a mileage from the international media such as BBC and National Geographic were baseless.

He said that it was not correct that those films were attracting  tourists because they have seen a steady increase of tourists arrivals.
He said that the suspension will allow them to take stock of themselves on how to address challenges that they are currently facing.  Tapeng said that there also concerned about some tour operators who were fronting for international media.  

“Tour operators obtain filming,photographic and research permits where they now front for this international media. They get permits and they even go to an extent of filming or taking those filmmakers where they are not allowed to go,”added Tapeng. However Tapeng decried of unethical behaviour by some film makers and proffesional photographers as one of the reason behind the  suspension of environmental research,filming and photography permits. Tapeng  says such unethical behaviours are in  relation to filmmakers who market themselves claiming that they offer under water excursions in crocodile infested rivers such as Okavango and Chober rivers.  He said those claiming to be offering underwater excursions market themselves by luring tourists that they are able to play with crocodiles. Tapeng said that such unethical behaviours could have serious repercussions to the government of Botswana. He said that there could be legal implications that could come as result of any causalities since the government was the one issuing permits. University of Botswana Okavango Research Centre, Director, Proffessor Jospeh Mbaiwa  also decried the recent move to suspend research permits, film permits and photographic permits in game reserves,national monuments and national parks. Mbaiwa is worried that the move has stalled a United Nations sanctioned academic research in the Okavango Delta.

Mbaiwa who was tasked with collecting data about the use of coal, diesel,petrol power generators in lodges in the delta was worried that the suspension has stalled the research.

Mbaiwa stated in an interview that the decision was wrong as the  government went ahead to suspend the issuance of research permits a  move that has declared him a prohibited immigrant into the  Okavango Delta. Mbaiwa stated in an interview that other partners in the UN sanctioned project are expected to arrive this month but due to suspension of the permits he is unlikely to provide data that they wanted. Mbaiwa stated that the suspension has stalled academic research even at University of Botswana Okavango Research Centre that are  usually conducted in the Okavango Delta throughout the year. Mbaiwa indicated that the study was funded by European Union where they tasked him with providing information on the use of coal, diesel and petrol generators. Tapeng comments come after Okavango Research Centre Director Proffesor Jospeph Mbaiwa criticized the government move to suspend permits without consulting. Tapeng stated in an interview that the suspension was not cast in stones. He further indicated that they will treat every case on its merits.

 Tapela said that government entities who have pressing matter that need them to carry out their duties will be given permits.

Efforts to reach the National Geographic crew were futile since some left the country after completing their expedition at Lake Xau last week.

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