Saturday, January 16, 2021

“We need media freedom box”

I recently read an article about a certain Rathedi who is supposed to have resigned from BCP and has since joined BDP.

The journalist referred to the gentleman as a sycophant. Apparently he was called this because he had expressed the view that Ian Khama and the BDP were a blessing to Botswana.

Bearing in mind the definition of sycophant one expected the journalist to inform us of the favours Rathedi intended to win by flattery.

I am of the view that what the journalist was expressing was a personal opinion and is of no information value to the reader. This has led me to re-visit what it is we understand about governance and freedom of expression.

Within the arena of freedom of expression there is no hierarchical structure. It is a world where all views are accorded the same right to exposure. However within this world the view that gets exposure is the one where the holder has access to the resources to publish the view.
We then have a situation where a journalist may because of his access to the media, be able to publish his view about a particular person or event. This is not news that members of the public should be asked to pay for. It is in my view a rip off.

I have observed that the same situation obtains with how our media houses relate to political parties. It seems to me that our media houses subscribe to the view that the opinions of someone who comes together with like-minded people to form a political party should be given exposure.
But should the views of someone who has a thousand friends be given exposure more than those of a single individual?

Supposing the thousand people have never collectively taken a particular position that is being articulated by their friend.

Why should this individual’s views be given exposure over and above those of any other person, or one who does not have a thousand friends?

In my view once a thousand people come together it is imperative that the view that is given exposure in their name should be a policy position taken by the friends. We must therefore make a distinction between personal views and political party positions.

I believe it is because of our failure to make this distinction that we accord more exposure to the views of friends who happen to hold leadership positions than to those of stand-alone individuals even though the arena of freedom of expression does not recognize a hierarchical structure.

I submit that within governance framework there is a hierarchical structure that negatives individual freedom of expression. I believe it is only a view arrived at within the governance structures of friends that should be given exposure as news.

If we do not do this we indulge in bias, we violate fair, open and equitable exposure of views.
It is for this reason that I suggest that our newspapers establish a freedom box. Within this freedom box all should be treated in the same manner, for freedom of expression is a flat ground. Within this box we should house views that do not come from any governance framework.

I believe that if we establish this freedom box we would force those who come together to realize that we are not going to accord them space to make pronouncements that are not policy positions outside the freedom box.

I believe that our political debates have not benefited us because we have failed to distinguish between personal views and political party policy issues. We have in the past had political party leaders make pronouncements that are at odds with their political party policies. Invariably some of these pronouncements were intended to win votes and did indeed win votes.

In my view a freedom box allows a prospective voter to distinguish between a particular political party’s position and that of the individual. A prospective voter will know that what is in the freedom box is not a policy position but a personal view.

It will also provide for differences of opinion within political parties to be ventilated outside the governance framework without necessarily taking an adversarial posture.

It will also allow ordinary members to know what competing views are out there without the stigma of political party colours that invariably results in people becoming blind to alternative views.
Nearly all our print media houses have access to the electronic media. It should therefore not be too difficult to establish freedom boxes. I think each media house can establish a freedom box in its web site. Those who are so inclined can then post their views into the freedom box.

The media might even post a warning to those who access the freedom box that they do so at risk of their sensibilities being offended, and that by accessing the freedom box they renounce any right to sue.

I believe the freedom box will also address my concern about the use of editorial discretion to suppress some viewpoints. The editor can post a submission that would otherwise not have found space in his paper into the freedom box, so that the readers of the paper will know what it is that the editor refused to give space.

This will ensure some measure of transparency in use of editorial discretion.

Imagine a situation where the nation wants to know what the sum of two and three is. Some decide to form various societies with leadership structures for finding the solution. They then recruit others to join the individual societies for purposes of finding a solution to the problem.
A citizen who never takes a bath decides to work alone at finding the solution. Should the nation be fed the processes that those who have formed societies are going to follow to find a solution, and be kept in the dark about the processes of the one who decides to work alone?

Imagine a situation where the media houses interview the leadership of the various societies on their processes. The one who works alone is never interviewed.

A hot national debate ensues about which society has better processes. The individual who chose to work alone is ignored. Soon the issue is not about the solution to the problem but which society follows democratic processes in finding a solution.

After five years of trying to come up with a solution the society that controlled the national purse asks for more time.

Those that did not have control of the national purse ask the nation to give them a chance at controlling the national purse and that because they follow democratic processes they stand a better chance of finding a solution.

But then in a democracy the decision is not founded on knowledge or ability but on what the majority says.

Does internal party democracy ensure that a society that controls the national purse is in a better position to come up with the solution than the one who works alone? I do not think so.
I am of the view that if one thousand people do not know the answer to a question, formation of a society and establishment of committees and control of the national purse does not place them in a better position to find a solution than the stand-alone individual.

Our media houses seem to believe that if a nation wants a solution to a problem, those who form societies with leadership structures that promote internal party democracy are in a better position than a private individual to find a solution to the problem.

Our media houses seem to ignore the reality that where there is monetary reward for being in a leadership position there is no need for one to know the solution to the problem.

All one need do is get people to place one in the leadership position. If ignorance and democracy can ensure that you become a leader and you are after monetary reward, so be it.

Why do we call policy pronouncements by a president who heads a governance structure unilateralism, and yet fail to attach the same label to pronouncements by party political leaders that have no party policy backing?

In my view once you make a distinction between the arena of freedom of expression and governance you begin to see the hypocrisy that is at play in our political discourse.

Political party leaders who make pronouncements in a party policy vacuum are making unilateral pronouncements founded on freedom of expression. They are dwelling within the framework of freedom of expression and have not entered the governance arena.

We need to look at things in this manner if we are to grow our democracy and governance.
Making a distinction between governance and freedom of expression ensures that political parties disclose their policies, and that their cadres are well versed on their party policies. As voters we will then be able to make informed decisions about the various political parties and have something to hold them to.

For so long as political parties operate within the realm of freedom of expression only, and fail to enter the governance arena, our people will not have any real basis for choosing one party over another.

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