Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Mass Media Complex presents very tough challenge for Masisi

As a professional educationist and national leader, President Mokgweetsi Masisi would be inclined to have Botswana get the most it has invested in the education sector. However, where the Mass Media Complex is concerned, the challenge he faces is that allowing journalists to freely practice a trade they learnt at university would clash with the imperatives of the government’s long-running public propaganda agenda.

Under President Sir Ketumile Masire, a professional journalist trained overseas was transferred to what is now the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry at a time when there were very few such journalists in both the public and private sector. The situation never changed under his successors and last year under President Ian Khama, Btv staff members who exercised editorial discretion to cover an opposition party rally were immediately redeployed to less sensitive areas on orders from the Office of the President (OP). The word “sensitive” has actually been used in court documents in the same context. In the matter at hand, a Btv producer, Joshua Ntopolelang, was redeployed from a highly sensitive news section in an election year (2014) because, as his affidavit states, management was unsure of his political allegiance. The court papers quote Mass Media Complex director, Lesole Obonye, as telling Ntopolelang that senior government officials could not entrust him (Ntopolelang) with a politically sensitive position in an election year when they were not sure of his loyalty to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.  

Masisi is a different kettle of fish because he is the first professional educator and first education minister to become president. Botswana is among the four highest spenders on education and someone with Masisi’s background would perceptibly be keen on ensuring that utmost educational productivity is derived from this investment. He becomes president at a time that the Mass Media Complex is the veritable PR wing of the BDP. This situation means that the government’s investment in government journalists is not fully realised, that money was and is still being poured down the drain to train journalists who become ruling party propagandists.

Masisi could rise above narrow party interest and become transformational but political expediency means that he can’t afford the risk of having state media (which has wider reach, greater geographical presence and is better resourced) report stories similar to those reported in the private press. However, for as long as that happens, the government doesn’t get value for money for its huge educational expense on journalists. Apparently there is a mechanism for measuring return on investment in the public sector because when he was foreign minister, the late Mompati Merafhe told parliament that President Festus Mogae’s foreign travel had yielded FDI worth P1 billion. That same mechanism would reveal how much the government loses for training journalists who end up doing BDP propaganda.

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