Saturday, November 27, 2021

Govt indecision on community radio stations is fueling mushrooming of fake news sites

For some years now, Botswana Government has been resisting calls to allow community radio stations.

Community radio stations perform an invaluable job, not only in providing timely and location appropriate information but also in giving voice to the local communities – often in their own language and through the people they can relate to.

Community radio stations if allowed to operate add a lot to human rights.

More importantly, it is impossible for community radio stations to become rogue institutions.

This because they are licensed. A license issued can also be revoked.

Thus, regulating community radio stations was always going to be easy.

But community radio stations operate through the dictates established by the Broadcasting Authority.

This means regulating them is not only natural but also easy.

There are good reasons why certain things would effectively be outlawed in community radio stations.

These are things like spreading tribalism.

But liking one’s people is like talking one’s language.

It has nothing to do with tribalism.

Botswana government in refusing community radio stations has always said they divide the country, spread hatred, tribalism and tear the country apart.

Nothing is farther from the truth.

The mushrooming of fake news sites, many of them purporting to report from rural areas should be a source of concern for government.

Even more worrying should be the number of people too eager to believe what these sites report.

It is clear that people view these sites as providing them with a voice and a platform.

In short, they are filling a void.

And indeed a void clearly exists.

Government has been too comfortable to take an easy way.

It did not occur to them that in the advent of social media, setting up a radio station or a television station would only require a touch screen mobile phone.

And now young people, many of them totally in the dark about media and journalism ethics, but armed with ambition are setting online radio station.

It is a development that Botswana government cannot ignore much less control.

In such helplessness, there is panic.

It was not always like this.

There used to be a time when Botswana government seemed well capable of controlling anything and everything.

The internet and the innovation that comes with it have all taken such control away.

These young people are finding a gap and utilizing it and sadly not always with the best results.

Things would be so much easier had government heeded media activists calls to allow for community radio stations.

What we are seeing is worse than what government had feared – with no substantiation about the community radio stations.

People need more information not less.

People need more freedoms, not less.

The internet has broken boundaries.

It has allowed people to taste the freedom that only twenty years ago they thought was unattainable.

Botswana Government has been too slow to appreciate the transformational effect of social media.

In the era of social media trying to control information is like trying to stop water with bare hands – it simply does not happen.

Social media is tearing apart Botswana’s veneer of democracy.

It is exposing government excuses for not allowing community radio stations as hollow and self-serving.

Social media is allowing for the establishment of default community radio stations – only they are more virulent and doing exactly what government had feared and guess what, government has no control.

Government should urgently allow for establishment of community radio stations.

This will immediately and practically close the gap currently filled by disinformation, misinformation and also fake news.

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