Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Media coverage of COVID-19 is superb

If one looks at the coverage of convid-19 pandemic by the country’s print media and the coverage of World War II by the South African print media, one sees some similarities in the level of commitment and devotion to duty. This could be a sign that the local media has totally matured since the mushrooming of the print media in Botswana at the beginning of the 80s when apart from the Botswana Daily News, newspapers such as Mmegi, the Examiner and the Botswana Guardian hit the streets. Somebody may wonder as to how the writer is able to make comparison between the covid-19 and world war coverage when world war was fought when he was not yet born and was not even in the pipeline. I will address that question later. Let me start with my impression of the Botswana print media’s response to the present pandemic.

Since the pandemic broke out even before it reached Botswana, the print media had been hammering on the virus’ impact in the economies of the world. Once it hit Botswana, the print media came out with screaming headlines in their newspaper’s pages. They gave priority to covid-19 stories while anything else was a filler. For instance, The Patriot on Sunday issued on April 5th, had 18 stories related to Covid-19 pandemic in some of its 16 pages.

For the weekend of April 19, the Sunday Standard’s 20 pages carried 25 stories related to COVID-19 pandemic. Eye catching headlines were something like “Botswana records three cases of COVID-19 disinfodemic”, “Patient confidentiality  places Botswana at higher risk of COVID-19 infection”, “Botswana racing against time to stave off COVID-19 mass starvation” and “With bars closed, drinkers turn  to home-brewed alcohol.”  In fact, it may seem as if the Sunday Standard had been warning Batswana that their country was not immune from the pandemic long before it arrived in Botswana. On March 3, it carried an opinion article headed “Corona Virus may reach us”. It would seem the article was preparing Batswana psychologically to await the inevitable. In another article, the writer had said that lockdown in was South Africa good for Botswana. That was an attempt to induce the country’s leadership to follow suit.

The other newspaper which came out with several stories in one issue is the Weekend Post of April 11.  Out of 20 stories it carried, only five were unrelated to COVID-19 pandemic. Even the headlines were screaming loudly. “Masisi takes charge”, “Masks won’t stop COVID 19”, “Parliament gives Masisi sweeping powers”, “President, VP, 64 MPs isolated” “Masisi warns uncooperative businesses”, COVID-19 Could be Conquered with Information Dissemination Aids” and  “Union rallies mines over COVID-19 victims” are some of the headlines to the newspaper stories.

   Now there is this thing about coverage of World War II by the South African print media. At the beginning of this article, I said I would elaborate on it later. This is the time.  There is a hotel in Central Johannesburg called Hilbrow Hotel. Towards the end of August in 1995, I was booked in that hotel by the Johannesburg based Botswana office ahead of the opening of the first SADC meeting in that country. South Africa had just become a democratic country and SADC member countries decided to honour Nelson Mandela by holding the summit in his country. I arrived at the hotel shortly before noon. After lunch I toured the hotel in order to familiarize myself with its geography. The tour led me to a fairly large hall where I found framed newspaper articles of the world war hanging against the four sides of the wall. My tour started around 2 0’clock in the afternoon and by 6.30 my eyes were still on the walls enjoying reading.  I don’t remember the newspaper from which those framed articles were from, but I think the Star of Johannesburg, the Mercury of Durban and the Mail & Guardian of Mafikeng had a share of it. I do not remember the exact wording of the headlines. But some of them were in bold letters running across pages. The one story that I still remember, was about a banned Bechuanaland chief arriving in South Africa by train with a group of men as part of the African auxiliary troops supporting Britain during the war. The banned Bechuanaland chief arriving was Kgosi Molefi. Remember he had been in exile at Segeng when World War II began. Bechuanaland as this country was known then was covered by the South African press as there were no newspapers. There were such South African newspapers like Naledi-Ya- Batswana and Tswellopele which catered for Batswana. It appears very little if any was done by the two newspapers in the coverage of the war. The leading newspaper appears to have been the Star which was established in 1871.

I had planned to continue reading the following day but my plans were unexpectedly interrupted when an officer from the Botswana office arrived to tell me that I were to move from the hotel to another in Santon with immediate effect and that after checking in at Santon, I were to be driven to Botswana High Commission in Pretoria for a meeting with the High Commissioner. According to a receipt that was handed over to me after checking in, I was allocated room 404 at Santon’s Holiday Inn under account number 64691.

In Pretoria, the High Commissioner was a Mr Oteng Tebape, a carreer diplomat who had been Botswana’s High Commissioner in London and Lusaka before. He also led the Botswana mission that observed preparations leading to the 1990 Namibian independence. He explained to me that he was shocked to hear that I had been booked at Hilbrow Hotel and wondered what explanation he would give if the news that I was at that hotel reached Gaborone, indicating that the place was not safe for me to stay in. I told him two frightening stories of my experience during my short stay at that hotel. One was about movement of people with Nigerian or Ghanaian accent in front of my room throughout the night and the other was about the presence of a brothel across the hotel street. The night long movement of people near my room was apparently that of drug lords. You could hear some quarreling in some cases and others discussing the impending transactions. Outside the hotel, the ladies of the night were a menace as they waited by the hotel’s door side for visitors exiting. They did not negotiate. They just grabbed and the talking would be on arrival at their rooms. There were unimpressive stories of individuals having taken place in their rooms where guests were robbed. Before I finished my story, the High Commissioner was already expressing dismay saying “you see, you see”.

I choose to write about the print media because newspapers are unlike the electronic media, easily accessible. Newspapers are in most cases, available in the book shops, supermarkets and libraries. But even then, both the Botswana Television, Radio Botswana and to some extend Duma FM, their performance has been highly impressive.  Radio Botswana and BTV demonstrated that they are indeed public broadcasting operations as they kept the nation informed on every little piece of information government wanted to put across. They were also pro-active as they did not wait to be spoon-fed. The types of questions that the likes of Thebeyame Ramoroka, Dikarabo Ramadubu, Sello Motseta, Tlhalefang Charles, Tshireletso Stoffel, Pako Lebanna, Aubry Maswabi and Baleseng Baleseng asked were very informative and enabled the government to simplify its plans and policies aimed at fighting the CONVID-19 pandemic.  To that extend, I wonder if there is anybody in this country who can say he has not heard of the thing called corona virus and that it has killed thousands of people across Asia, Europe and the Americas.

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