Friday, September 25, 2020

“The media should not turn themselves into cry-babies”

It is becoming succinctly clear that the media does not accept criticism for their misdeeds.
It is all too good for them to criticize others as undemocratic and autocratic yet on the other hand, any attempt to show displeasure at the conduct of the media practitioners is always met with scathing but misguided attacks. The Botswana Guardian and the Sunday Standard newspapers are typical examples.

In response to President Khama’s inaugural speech, the two newspapers questioned why Khama should have made reference to defamation, slander and false statements in the media as some of his concerns and ‘advised’ him to instead channel his energies to fighting hunger, joblessness and so on, deliberately ignoring that indeed these are also areas of concern he mentioned and set up a special committee of cabinet to tackle! They accuse him of threatening them, yet to anybody reasonable, there was no threat issued, and anybody who does not want to malign others would have no cause to worry about the statement he made. They further argue that because there is the Press Council and the High Court from which to seek redress if one feels defamed, then there is no need to raise such issues. One really wonders if this means that because there is the Law Society to handle issues of embezzlement of trust funds, then political leaders should not raise these as issues of concern, and probably come up with measures to augment those already in place so as to reduce the incidences of such bad practices. Should we always wait for something bad to happen just because there are institutions in place to deal with the after-effects, or is it better to try to prevent their occurrences? Besides, it is not everyone who can afford the process of litigation after being defamed. The Sunday Standard goes on to say they long advised Khama not to run government like a military camp; this is hog-wash, nothing in his speech gives any impression of running the country like a military camp.

On a separate note, Spencer Mogapi of the Sunday Standard reveals how paranoid he gets at times. Discussing Automatic Succession, he starts by saying there is a groundswell of deep-seated public disillusion against automatic succession. Towards the end, he unpalatably asserts that some of his colleagues in the media have, as a result of automatic succession, lined behind the incoming president for admission into his fan club of unthinking admirers! Regarding the first statement, Mogapi is requested to produce evidence that his statement holds and one can safely conclude that no such evidence exists. Out of the close to 2 million Batswana, how many fall under his category of disillusioned people as a result of automatic succession. And on the last statement, I think people, especially those with unfettered access to the media must be disciplined in the way they describe those who differ with them. To say one is unthinking just because they don’t subscribe to your point of view is insulting. Do Mogapi and his fan club of thinking admirers possess the monopoly of wisdom?

And now getting to automatic succession debate in brief, I think proponents of this debate should do things logically by first and foremost agitating for direct election of president by the public, that is, not by parliament as it used to be. Only then will the debate about automatic succession have merit.

An impression should however not be created to the effect that by automatically succeeding an out-going president, then the incoming president is assured of two terms. Automatic succession as is currently is meant to fill the gap created by the departure of the sitting president until the next election. It should be noted that in the interim, parties hold their congresses where they can elect somebody else to be their presidential candidate in the next elections. Much as we understand that democracy is expensive, it should not be made unnecessarily expensive, especially when there are more challenging demands that as a society, we need to tackle. To me, the costs of holding a presidential election with only 18 months to the general election far outweigh the benefits related to this principle of democracy; why not channel the resources to some more beneficial use. I am aware that there is a possibility of a president resigning immediately after an election, in which case the one succeeding will be assured of the seat for close to 5 years. This can happen, but on a scale of probabilities, this is close to zero, unless through death, but still, if the president was not popularly elected, then there would be nothing wrong with the VP automatically succeeding him for 5 years. In short, what makes sense to me is to argue for direct election of president, then all other demands would fall into place. Without a popularly elected president, then it is quite in order to have automatic succession by the VP.

I should however hasten to state that under our current peculiar political circumstances, I would not support direct election of president. In a situation where almost all Members of Parliament go to Parliament only for a salary, coupled with lack of seriousness and uprightness in terms of political party policy direction, the majority in Parliament could, with no regard for public good, simply frustrate the President if from a different party. In short, given the truancy and lack of maturity amongst our MPs, direct election of president could lead to unprincipled arm-twisting and compromises ultimately resulting in governance paralysis. Let us mature first to know what is good for the nation before we introduce this system.

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