Of recent the media has been awash with money laundering allegations involving over P250 million. We particularly take note of the recent allegations by the Sunday Standard (SS) in its edition of 10-16thDecember 2017, which alleged that all opposition parties, “with the exception of AP and BPP” have benefited from such illegal transactions. In response, the Botswana National Front (BNF) would like to categorically put on record that such transactions have never reached the party. In this Bakang Seretse allegation, we are challenging the SS that, instead of generalising about “opposition parties”, it should provide evidence to back up its allegations, accuse specific political parties and state the amounts involved, the manner of transacting and when the transaction was made to the “opposition parties”.
No one from SS bothered to contact the said opposition parties to get their side of the story. On 3-9th December 2017, Sunday Standard Deputy Editor, Spencer Mogapi also wrote about Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) that:“it does not seem to matter to them (UDC) that among them are dyed-in-the-wool drug lords masquerading as politicians”. Mogapi for instance, made the irresponsible and sweeping statement about UDC without informing the readers of who the drug lords in UDC are, intentionally leaving that to speculation.
Why not identify the drug lords so that the law could take its course? If not, then we submit, the newspaper has no right making such speculative political statements. When speculating, why not alert the reader rather than presenting it as facts? Speculation is permissible in ethical journalism, for instance, by inserting a simple question mark on the headline. By not thoroughly investigating, failing to establish or present facts, avoiding to engage opposition parties for their views (right to reply) or presenting the perceptions of its Deputy Editor as facts (who often abuses his weekly column), the SS fails the basic tenets of journalism and media ethics. We are concerned that Mogapi who keenly tramples at will on journalistic standards under the guise of free speech or editorial freedom has held the Chair of the Editors’ Forum, which is responsible among others, with promoting or upholding such standards.
An allegation has also been peddled that the BNF received P200 000 from Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) during the Tlokweng by-election. Some media houses even claimed to have concrete evidence. In the BOPEU allegation, the BNF humbly requested the media houses to release such information as it could be helpful to the party, but to date the newspapers have not come forth, nor apologised for misleading the nation. Lately, the Botswana Gazette newspaper also alleges that the BNF or Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) received donations from Bakang Seretse towards the Goodhope by-election campaign in August 2015. In that story the newspaper quotes a BNF Councillor in an attempt to legitimise its allegation, but still did not bother to contact the party. These are mostly the same media houses (SS and Gazette) which, not so long ago, singled out BNF/UDC leader, Cde Duma Boko in sensational accusations. One such story has allegedly reached the courts as a serious case of defamation.
Such allegations are unfounded, grossly malicious, irresponsible, adventurist and unethical journalism, tarnishing otherwise the good media work. Though unsubstantiated, these are serious allegations against the BNF and UDC, which warrant proper evidence and balanced reporting. We thus, see a trend, pattern or concerted effort, by some media houses or individual journalists to vilify or malign the BNF and its leader without just cause. It would seem they are on a mission to destroy the BNF, UDC and/or its individual coalition partners, on whose behalf and benefit, we do not know. Some individual journalists are unapologetic and boastfully intent on playing a role that falls outside their scope of work, where they abandon their duty to readers and take on an explicit political ‘activist’ role. It is apparent that Editors are either complicit in this or plainly helpless. Undoubtedly, there is a clear case of excess and abuse of the pen, which is not in the public interest to inform or generate constructive public dialogue, but rather to tarnish and destroy those they disagree with.
On 4th September 2017, the BNF Secretary General and Secretary for Information and Publicity visited media houses like Botswana Guardian / Midweek Sun, the Botswana Gazette, Duma Fm while Sunday Standard Editors were not available on that day. The purpose was to express our gratitude and concerns on media issues and also to get theirs as an attempt of improve our working relations. This continued malicious reporting is not helpful to readers and the nation generally. The BNF believes in media freedom and self-regulation as demonstrated by its support to the media fraternity all these years. We at the BNF support accountability, truthfulness, accuracy, impartiality, fairness as these promote responsible journalism and professional growth of the industry. We further call upon all media regulatory organisations such as MISA Botswana, Press Council, Editors Forum, BOMAWU, etc to help promote responsible journalism with the same fervour that the media uses when calling upon political organisations to account. The media should not dare lose the public’s trust, for that is its life-line.
Amidst several instances of corruption and maladministration by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) government, the President of the BNF and UDC, Cde Duma Boko, has repeatedly warned in public rallies and other platforms that those who have been looting national coffers will be called to account when UDC assumes state power in 2019. This position has not changed. He has further challenged those who claim to have information about him or the parties he leads, regarding corrupt practices to report with the relevant security agents, rather than gossip about it. Let such information be tested fairly and openly.
The issue of the recent P250 million allegedly diverted to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) must be investigated and appropriate action taken. The law ought to take its course with this and all other pending corruption and fraud cases, without fear or favour, whether or not Ministers are involved. We also note with trepidation how the DISS has become a law unto itself, in spite of the Intelligence oversight committee that was supposed to restrain its operations and abuse of power. What is even more scary is the possibility that these transactions may not be institutional but serving personal interests of individual DISS officers, who could be taking advantage of poor financial controls to enrich themselves with the help of those who should be protecting public funds. The nation is facing serious challenges of unemployment; closure of mines and industry; poor salaries for workers; excessive military expenditure; shortage of books in schools; lack of medication in public institutions; high levels of poverty; etc and yet millions of public funds are abused in adventurous games of plunder and theft for the benefit of a few who have had such undeserved opulence, uninterrupted for five decades.
It is this dire national situation that the media ought to have a duty towards, instead of being on an apparent anti-Boko, anti-BNF or anti-UDC crusade. No amount of media vilification of opposition parties will change our country, but only a determined focus on removing the current visionless leadership and administration that is the architect of the mess we find ourselves in. Thank you.
*Justin Hunyepa is BNF Secretary for Information and Publicity