Thursday, July 18, 2024

Guess who’s coming to dinner? (or in this case, breakfast.)

Gabz FM suspends “Breakfast with Reg” host Reginald Richardson and his producer Keikantse Shumba as escalating complaints filed against the radio station by the Botswana Democratic Party take their toll on the management of the Station.

Internal leaks from within the BDP headquarters at Tsholetsa House confirm  that a persistent barrage of complaints by its members and operatives have finally influenced the management of Gabz FM to suspend one of Botswana’s last bastions of informed and vibrant discussions on the local political arena. Emails from MacDonald Peloetletse and Thapelo Fish Pabalinga reveal that the party views the “Breakfast with Reg” duo as lacking journalistic integrity due to the BDP’s perception of one sided coverage of issues ranging over a period of 3 years.

The 10 day suspension of Richardson and Shumba comes on the back of an unrelated BOCRA investigation into the conduct of the two for allegedly violating the Broadcasting Act Regulations as a result of their interviews with the controversial American Pastor, Anderson last month. In its letter informing Gabz FM of its investigations, BOCRA does not disclose what offence under the Regulations the “Breakfast with Reg”  duo are alleged to have committed, confining themselves to a generalised breach of conduct under the Regulations which set out various different types of conduct that broadcasters are prohibited from conducting. The lack of a specific ground for investigation which can lead to the cancellation of the Station’s broadcasting license is contrary to both local law and provisions of freedom of expression under international law.

The lack of detail as to the alleged breach of conduct in the notification of investigations by BOCRA to Gabz FM, is also reflected in the notification of suspension by the radio station to its two employees, as the suspension provides no detail as to what specifically and how the two radio journalist are said to have violated their code of conduct.

In his complaint to the Gabz FM board MacDonald Peloetletse writes:

“Gentlemen in the BDP we don’t hide behind journalism or call ourselves political analysts or media expects (sic) to discredit the opposition while glorifying the BDP.

You can never hear Botsalo Ntuane, Odirile Motlhale, Sechele Sechele, Dr Serema or any other well-known (sic) BDP activist at Gabz FM being interviewed as a “political analyst” or a “media expect”. They get invited as BDP represantatives (sic).

We see that in the Phenyo Butales, Dick Bayford, Dr Almon Tafa, Letshwiti Tutwane and the Pamela Dube-Kelepangs and many other well-known opposition activists of the UDC……..”

The BDP complaint, which has been followed up both verbally and in writing by Thapelo  Pabalinga with the Gabz FM Board has been given additional weight by Khama who on the 1st April 2016  while addressing the 54th BDP National Council attacked that private media, once more, this time classifying private media as “opposition media” and adding to them “opposition lawyers”  by stating that “They peddle all these unpatriotic tendencies through themselves and opposition journalists and opposition lawyers in the attempt to undermine our constitution.”

The alternative government, in the Umbrella for Democratic Change has publically expressed its concern over the national broadcasting television and radio stations, Btv and RB1; which according to the UDC fail to cover at all, let alone accurately, events by political entities other than the ruling party and events by non-political entities such as unions that are critical of the BDP led Government. The national broadcasters fall directly under political control of the Ministry of Communication who controls their editorial content.

The Government owned broadcasters state that there are “no statutory instruments governing the editorial independence of the media organs of the department. Editorial policy is being implemented independently from within the department in accordance with the mandate bestowed on the department by government. The department also executes editorial policy in line with its role as a public service media charged with the responsibility of promoting policies of the government. The department is hence, dedicated to the provision of objective, balanced, credible and professionally-tailored programmes and publications”.

Private media, in its various forms, unlike the public broadcaster is governed by the Broadcasting Regulations within the context of its own editorial policy. The political tone given to the facts of a story, discussion or coverage in privately owned media are part of the freedom of expression of that organisation. Pastor Anderson expressed his views on air, controversial as they were, supported by current laws that still make homosexuality illegal. The Legabibo victory in court as to the registration of a Gay and Lesbian Society was a victory for Freedom of Expression as much as it was for the group themselves. The Court of Appeal ruling that it was the right of every person to express themselves to bring about education on issues that are oppressive to a particular segment of society. Pastor Anderson, without endorsing and in fact condemning such views also enjoyed the right to express his views. The BOCRA complaint without particularity as to the conduct Richardson and Shumba are said to have violated is in contradiction with its own policies.

Similarly the complaints by MacDonald Peloetletse and Thapelo Pabalinga apply the standards of a public broadcaster to that of private media failing to recognise that individual journalists and media personality have the right to their own freedom of expression and give facts their own political interpretation.

Botswana as a signatory to the African Charter on Human Rights assented to Resolution 62 on the Adoption of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa which states that:

The Guarantee of Freedom of Expression

1. Freedom of expression and information, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other form of communication, including across frontiers, is a fundamental and inalienable human right and an indispensable component of democracy.

2. Everyone shall have an equal opportunity to exercise the right to freedom of expression and to access information without discrimination.

II Interference with Freedom of Expression

1. No one shall be subject to arbitrary interference with his or her freedom of expression.

2. Any restrictions on freedom of expression shall be provided by law, serve a legitimate interest and be necessary and in a democratic society.

III Diversity

Freedom of expression imposes an obligation on the authorities to take positive measures to promote diversity, which include among other things-:

Availability and promotion of a range of information and ideas to the public;

pluralistic access to the media and other means of communication, including by vulnerable or marginalized groups, such as women, children and refugees, as well as linguistic and cultural groups;

The promotion and protection of African voices, including through media in local languages; and

The promotion of the use of local languages in public affairs, including in the courts.

The government with its public broadcasting system, the domestic law and practice must guarantee that the system provides a pluralistic service, particularly where private stations are still too weak to offer a genuine alternative and the public or State organisation is therefore the sole or the dominant broadcaster within a country or region.

The use of licencing conditions by both BOCRA and Gabz FM, cannot interfere with the constitutional rights of both Richardson and Shumba as guaranteed by Section 12 of the Constitution.

The continued lack of independent coverage by BTv and RB1 has solicited no complaints by the Botswana Democratic Party as to its lack of partiality.

The media, in all its forms has come under increasing attack by state mechanisms, curtailing media freedom.  At the 34th National Congress of the BDP in July 11, 2011 Khama stated in response to opposition criticism of himself and his government that “Botswana is not Libya and I am not Gaddafi. Our history of democracy is totally different from the dictatorship of Libya. Batswana will respond to what they experience as they should, but not on the call of perceived undemocratic governance”.

As a “democratic” political party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is supposed to adhere to the principles that it espouses to. Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Media have long been held to be the cornerstones of any truly free and democratic society. Curtailing such freedoms by surreptitiously invoking complaints in respect of media personalities BDP no different from the “dictatorship in Libya” and giving rise to “undemocratic governance”.

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