Sunday, October 17, 2021

Molale may come to regret his advice about UDC TV

Be careful what you wish for is advice that the Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Eric Molale, may realise months too late that he should have taken heed of. Opposition parties are gravely concerned about not getting sufficient airtime on state electronic media as well as sufficient editorial space in the Botswana Daily News. When Gaborone Central MP, Dr. Phenyo Butale, raised this issue recently, Molale proposed that the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) should start its own television station if it felt that it was getting a raw deal from the government. Butale was raising a valid point about the state media being biased in favour of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party and there is an astounding amount of evidence that bears that out. His party is raising as valid a point about the bias being detrimental to democratic process. There is another equally valid that Butale and his party can raise: that state media is financed with taxes from both UDC MPs and supporters and that it is only fair that they benefit from their money. However, UDC is doing itself no favour by confining its communications outreach programme to shallow hope of state media ever giving it coverage equal to that it gives the BDP. Going back to the days of President Sir Seretse Khama, state media was always biased against the opposition. What is new in 2016 is that there are ICT systems that the opposition is not taking full advantage of to further its political communications agenda. Nothing is stopping UDC from actually starting its own online television channel and there are various inspirational examples from around the world. One source of such inspiration can be The Young Turks (TYT), an online media network in the United States. Its founders were unhappy with a tendency by the mainstream media to disregard issues that matter to ordinary people. In the words of Cenk Uygur, one of the co-founders, TYT is aimed at the “98 per cent not in power.” A U.S. News & World Report contributing writer has described TYT as “the loudly liberal counter to the right-leaning presets on my Sirius Satellite Radio.” Over the years, one of its programmes has become the world’s largest online news show and three years ago, its YouTube channel surpassed 3 billion video views. The Botswana situation is as follows: the most numerically important voter constituency is the youth who spend half their waking hours on social media; on account of cellphone possession, Botswana happens to have the highest Internet penetration rate in Africa according to Nielsen ratings agency. While it continues its battle for equal coverage by state media, UDC could adapt the TYT model to the Botswana situation and never have to worry about Btv not showing its political rallies. In his response to President Ian Khama’s state-of-the-nation address, Duma Boko, painted a vivid picture of what sounded like profligate wastage of government money on the army. Production staff on UDC TV would illustrate this item with appropriate images of the fighter jets and materiel he spoke to grab the viewers’ attention. The maximum amount of airtime a news item on Btv gets is two minutes 47 seconds but on its own YouTube channel, UDC would have full control on this other programming aspects. Supposing UDC TV takes off as spectacularly as TYT, Molale would realise the grave mistake he made. The channel he has in mind is one in which the party gets a licence from and is regulated by the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority. That would not be the case with a YouTube channel.

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