The National Director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Phenyo Butale, has called for the state media to be transformed into a public broadcaster. Butale raised reservations about the newly introduced Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority Bill (BOCRA), which seeks to repeal the Broadcasting Act of 1998, saying it has no provision for public service broadcasting.
He said there have been increasingly loud calls for government controlled broadcasters to be converted into Public Service broadcasters that equally serve the needs of the public through programming that is committed to quality, innovation and serving public interest.
“We were hoping that Botswana Television will be licensed as a public broadcaster. We believe that the continued non-regulation of the state media negates the gains that we previously made. The new bill exempts state broadcasters from regulation, and this is a regression that may open the door for abuse,” said Butale.
He said concerns have previously been made about the state media, with accusations flying thick and fast that the state media is biased and does not offer the nation a balanced view on issues.
The new law, said Butale, will send a wrong message to the international community that Botswana abhors the idea of a fair and open state broadcaster and only wants more power and control. He decried the fact that the bill was enacted without the input of key stake holders, saying such a drastic change in direction and approach should have been a product of comprehensive consultation.
“No consultation was done before a decision to head in a different direction was made. MISA Botswana would like to encourage the minister and Members of Parliament to rise above political party lines and suspend this bill pending further consultation. We believe that efforts to transform state broadcasters into public-service broadcasters have over the years gained momentum.
These efforts have been too central to contemporary media and communications policy debates- to be thrown out of the window by the stroke of a pen,” said Butale.
His statements come at a time when there is a lobby for the state media to be run by an independent board. In the current sitting of parliament, Kgatleng South Member of Parliament, Isaac Mabiletsa, will table a motion calling for the Department of Broadcasting Services and information Services to be converted from a state media to a public media that is accountable to an independent board that is free from political interference.