Francistown High Court Judge, Gaolapelwe Ketlogetswe, has urged the local media to train its journalists to try and avoid lawsuits.
Addressing the media practitioners during the recent MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa) celebrations in Francistown, the judge said that the media in Botswana has, in a few instances, faced challenges related to lawsuits arising out of materials regarded as defamatory to other people.
“The situation is avoidable, if resources permitting, in-house training and continuous journalistic training can be undertaken. I also think there are people out there who can help empower newspaper reporters on how to separate facts, from comments in the same newspaper article,” the Judge said.
On a different note, Justice Ketlogetswe said that freedom of the press is now a recognized right in most countries worldwide, including in Botswana which is protected by the law. He said that this freedom embodies the right to free speech, the right to disseminate information and the right to receive it.
“It may only be limited on grounds of public policy and national security and the duty to respect the right of others in terms of the same protective provisions,” he said.
The judge also said that in Botswana, unlike in other countries around the world, there are no known cases of journalists being killed or disappearing on account of their published stories. He said that the media in Botswana has over the years been relatively free owing to the country’s adherence to democratic principles and freedom of expression as enshrined in the constitution.
“Our courts have been consistent in their interpretation of the constitutional provisions guaranteeing freedom of expression,” he said.
Justice Ketlogetswe also said that the relationship between a free media and government can at times be described as akin to opposing poles of a magnet, with the government preferring less and less criticism from the media while the latter seeks to widen the latitude of its criticism.
“It is, however, not unknown that sometimes the media goes overboard in exercising their rights to freedom of expression by encroaching on the rights of others by violating their dignity and reputations,” Justice Gaotlogelwe said.
He added that when an individual feels that the press has violated his rights, he is entitled to approach the courts of law to seek a remedy in the form of interdicts and damages for defamation.
However, Justice Ketlogetswe lauded the local media for reporting on issues of corruption or abuse of office but advised that those who are implicated or accused in such malpractices should remain innocent until proven guilty after a trial in a court of law.
This year’s MISA celebrations were held under the theme “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in all media.”