A media studies lecturer at the University of Botswana says that the passing of the Media Practitioners Act has brought confusion to both media practitioners and members of the public with regard to the lay of the media complaints landscape.
“The [Press Council of Botswana] heard complaints from members of the public from 2006 to 2008. After 2008, with the passing of the Media Practitioners Act which aimed to introduce a Media Council it became unclear which of the two bodies would be responsible for hearing complaints. As a result no formal complaints have been heard since 2008,” writes Professor Richard Rooney, head of the Department of Media Studies at the University of Botswana in a paper he presented at a research seminar.
After the passing of the controversial Media Practitioners Act, the government announced names of seven people who were to constitute the Media Complaints Committee. The chair was Nathan Kgabi and the other members were Seamogano Mosanako, Sethunya Makepe, Alinah Segobye, Mookodi Seisa, Phillip Segola and Bonzo Mothibatsela-Makgalemele. The Committee never heard a single complaint against a media house or practitioner and seems to have died a natural death. The Act itself has not seen the light of day and in this year’s budget-speech session, Gaborone Central MP, Dr. Phenyo Butale, sought to have the Act repealed through a parliamentary motion. The Government Bench resisted with the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Eric Molale (who was permanent secretary to the president when the bill was cobbled together) using some tough language on how the government should deal with the press.
Contributing to the debate, Molale said in Setswana: “Fa ba sa itsamaise, re dire gore jaanong mongwe a ba tsamaise; a ba gagamaletse setoropo.” He basically meant that if the media people couldn’t regulate themselves, then someone else should do so and be strict with them. However, his choice of words (a ba gagamaletse setoropo) caused an opposition MP, Haskins Nkaigwa of Gaborone North, to remark that the law was made by an “angry government”. The phrase, which is used figuratively in Setswana, refers to a literally brutal method of training draught cattle. During days when Batswana used cattle to pull ploughs in the ploughing fields, part of the process of taming wild ones was to harness them to a plough with a hide rope and tighten the noose when these animals resisting the task they were being put to. Tightening the noose (go gagamatsa setoropo) was meant “break these cattle down” as it were, to make them tame and obedient and naturally entailed starving the animals of oxygen. The parallel with what the Media Practitioners Act seek to do is staggering.
The current situation in Botswana is such that aggrieved parties that would have used complaints process can’t because they don’t know where to go. In his paper, Rooney shows the far-reaching implications of this situation for all parties concerned: “This is to the possible detriment of ethical media standards in Botswana because as a result of the lack of official activity it has been impossible for those working in the news media to develop understandings of how their own codes might be applied in practice and no public space has been created in which discussions about the rightness or otherwise of the codes exists.”