Monday, October 25, 2021

‘Storm’ blinds Gabz FM

Government may pull the plug on private radio station Gabz FM which is perceived to be anti-ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).

The Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) has already started investigations against Gabz FM following the radio station’s pre-recorded broadcasts of controversial American anti-gay Pastor Steven Anderson.

Shortly after an interview with Gabz FM, Anderson was whisked away from the radio station office building by security agents and later declared a Prohibited Immigrant by President Ian Khama.

Sunday Standard is in possession of a confidential document marked “Investigation Notice” dated September 23, 2016 written by BOCRA’s Chief Executive Officer Thari Pheko addressed to Gabz FM Executive Director Lesego Komanyane.

The letter informs Komanyane that a decision has been made “to conduct an investigation on Gabz FM following an alleged contravention of Section 37 of the Communications Regulatory Act (CRA) Act, Regulation11 of the Broadcasting Regulations and part 4 of your license condition clause 14”. 

Section 37 states that “without prejudice to the provisions of section 178 of the Penal Code a licensee shall, where a programme to be broadcast or re-broadcast, is not suitable to be exhibited to children, advise or warn members of the public accordingly.”

Under Regulation 11 of the Broadcasting Regulations a licensee, or any employee thereof, shall not broadcast any matter which, measured by contemporary community standards:

  • offends against good taste or decency;
  • contains the frequent use of offensive language, including blasphemy;
  • presents sexual matters in an explicit and offensive manner;
  • glorifies violence or depicts violence in an offensive manner; and
  • is likely to incite or perpetuate hatred or vilify any person or section of the community on account of the race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual preference, age, disability, religion or culture of that person or section of the community.

Broadcast license condition Clause 17 states that:  Where a licensee has failed to comply with any material condition included in his or her licence or has defaulted in payment of any fees imposed under this part, the board may by notice in writing to the licensee revoke the licence.”

Pheko informed Komanyane that “it must be noted that the complaint of the alleged contraventions was initiated by the authority in its own accord”.

The investigation is in relation to the pre-recorded broadcasts of Anderson between September 15 and 20, 2016 and the live Gabz FM interview of Anderson on 20 September on The Point hosted by Breakfast with Reg, reads Pheko’s letter.

Pheko further states that the investigation is expected to be completed by October 29, 2016, after which the Authority will consider information, evidence and representations and make its decision.

“The decision of the Authority will be communicated to the station,” said Pheko.

He informed Komanyane that: “Gabz FM shall submit written representations in answer to the alleged contraventions within 10 days of this investigation notice, that is on or before October 11.”

“Kindly note that Gabz FM will be afforded an opportunity to make oral representations if the Authority considers it necessary, in which case    you will be informed of the date and time in advance,” stated Pheko.

The investigation notice which is complete with timelines shows that an appointment of an investigation team was done on September 26, 2016 and gathering of information was scheduled for the period between September 20 and October 1.

The assessment of potential contravention was slated between October 12 and 27, 2016 while completion of investigation is scheduled for October 28. Communication to the radio station will be on October 31.

Pheko further states that: “To ensure that investigation is conducted as fairly, efficiently and effectively as possible, we request that you keep the matter confidential.”

He added that: “Please note that the investigation does not affect your day to day operations and you are expected to continue broadcasting while investigations take place.”

Responding to Sunday Standard queries BOCRA’s Deputy Director Corporate Communications Aaron Nyelesi said: “BOCRA will respond in due course.”

Komanyane declined to comment.

President Ian Khama told Reuters that he had ordered Anderson’s immediate arrest and deportation after the pastor said in an interview with Gabz FM that gays and lesbians should be killed.

“He was picked up at the radio station. I said they should pick him up and show him out of the country,” Khama was quoted as saying, adding that “We don’t want hate speech in this country. Let him do it in his own country.”

Some media watchers believe the investigations against Gabz FM is a slight of hand by government to close down the radio station which it perceives as anti ruling BDP.

Government singled out Gabz FM from other radio stations and slapped an advertising ban on them because of the election debates sponsored by the American Embassy, The British High Commission and BOFEPUSU, which the BDP maligned as an “evil” plan.

In the run-up to the general elections, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi warned that Gabz FM should not forget that they survived on government advertising.

BDP has had running battles with Gabz FM in the past. At some stage BDP high ranking officials forced Gabz FM to apologise after airing a live programme in which one of its presenters, Reginald Richardson, had asked Masisi to clarify reports that he allegedly toyed with a condom during a Parliamentary session.

The apology follows a discussion in a morning show, called the Solid Morning Drive, hosted by Richardson and Tshepo Ntshole.

Richardson asked Masisi to clarify an incident that apparently happened in Parliament in which he allegedly toyed with a condom. Masisi replied that the media had blown the issue out of proportion by suggesting that.

“I was not playing with it as suggested in the media, the media made it as if I was blowing it,” Masisi explained.

Richardson insisted: “Minister were you blowing it?” to which Masisi replied, “Are you silly?”
Some senior members of the BDP called the Gabz FM management demanding that the station apologise for the discussion about the condom incident describing it as “distasteful and against cultural norms”.

It is understood that Komanyane crumbled under pressure and hastily issued a memo instructing Richardson and Ntshole to render an apology to their listeners and Masisi on behalf of the radio station.

A memo to the staff that Komanyane issued on a Thursday read: “This morning during the interview you had with the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Mokgweetsi Masisi, he was questioned about a condom incident in Parliament. This has riled some of our listeners, especially the older ones, more traditionalist members of society.”

The memo added that: “I have decided that for the sake of the radio station, we will air a short apology tomorrow morning even if this riles you as much as you angered your listeners.”

He explained that “this is an instruction”.

“You will read the apology before the start of the show and will not allow any listener to comment on the issue or raise it. Neither will the two presenters discuss the issue amongst themselves. The issue is closed,” concluded Komanyane in his memo.

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