The Botswana Television (BTV) editorial policy came under fire last week as the ongoing meeting of the 54th Public Accounts Committee took the public broadcaster to task for not being the voice of the voiceless.
Behind the divisive wall of semantics aside, there was a tacit agreement between the defensive Permanent Secretary (PS) and Accounting Officer at Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Kebonye Moepeng and the averse PAC members that the BTV is a voice of those in power.
While Selibe Phikwe west MP, Dithapelo Keorapetse complained that the national television station has marginalised rural communities who are hardly given any coverage, Moepeng on the other hand pointed out that the primary mandate of BTV is centred on covering issues surrounding government policy implementation progress. She further stated that the station is also mandated to showcase Botswana with the objective of pushing the countries tourism agenda. “The station continues to fully execute its mandate and for that reason it has met all the requirements of the BOCRA assessment,” she said.
For the most part, the meeting was a back and forth argument between PAC members and Moepeng who could not agree on the quality of the BTV bouquet.
Moepeng said she was not aware of the quality issues regarding the station. “I am shocked by the committee member’s concern because Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority recently carried out an assessment that indicated that the quality of the station is quite good,” she said.
Keorapetse on the other hand said he was puzzled as to what BOCRA was assessing because in his view BTV is a long way from meeting standards of national televisions worldwide. “South African Broadcasting Corporation for instance gives one a clear picture of what South African communities go through on a daily basis. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for BTV which is also evident in the way most of the population has deserted the station,” said Keorapetse.
Keorapetse said BTV mandate deserves to be revisited and changed. “The main stakeholders to a progressive media house are normally its advertisers, viewers and local communities. Political parties and private media are also crucial to its growth,” he said. Keorapetse said opposition parties have complained about the issue several times via letters and visits to the Ombudsman. He said academic assessments have also been made to scrutinize the station’s operations and the results have been negative. “There is a major concern that the Matlho a Phage magazine program was ended. Opposition parties have a valid concern that the reason why the program was stopped was to nip them in the bud. That is not a true reflection of democracy,” he said. For his part PAC member and Tati West MP Biggie Butale said indeed Matlho a Phage served a valid purpose to viewers and demanded that it should be returned. “The magazine program should be returned lest allegations of sidelining opposition parties by halting it become believable,” he said.
Moepeng said she is not aware of any other academic reports or complaints about the station by opposition parties. She further stated that Matlho a Phage was stopped to create space for other programs and no other reason that she knows of.