At a panel discussion organised by Limkokwing University of Creative Technology Botswana, under the theme of “Media Freedom has the power to transform societies,” to officially kick start the festivities for the 2012 World Press Freedom Day, it was unanimous among the panellists that indeed media freedom could transform societies; the question was how?
“Transformation can be good or bad,” said Mpho Dibeela, the Managing Editor of the Botswana Guardian and Midweek Sun, and cited the occurrence that led to the infamous Rwandan genocide, which was the result of an irresponsible and unregulated media which led to the deaths of many Rwandans.
University of Botswana lecturer, Dr Letshwiti Tutwane, emphasised the need to distinguish that, in a liberal democracy like Botswana, it is imperative that the media fraternity should differentiate what media freedom means to an individual and that it is different to what it means to a society.
Tutwane explained that there also needs to be clarity on the difference between what the public has a right to know, and what some elements of the public want to know. In essence, he said, it is the difference between what is in the public interest, and what the public finds ‘interesting.’
Botswana Government spokesperson, Dr Jeff Ramsay, indicated that in his opinion there is conclusive evidence that indeed media has transformed societies, both regional and internationally.
Ramsay stated that the term “4th Estate”, often used to refer to the media, actually started in France as a condemnation towards some unscrupulous acts done in the media houses.
Program leader at Limkokwing University, Mr Mpho Pusoetsile, pointed out that the public at large is the primary target and consumer and, therefore, the media’s obligations should lie with them and informing them should be their core responsibility.
Tutwane further stated that in Botswana, the government does not want the public media to operate as public service media but rather as the state media, which only pushes the government agenda and policies. This assertion brought about the concern on whether or not Botswana was ready for the transformation of state media into a public service media, which would require commercialisation.
Dibeela stated that though media in Botswana is self regulatory, government monopoly on state media has proven to be a problem.
He said that it is imperative for the nation to be well informed through the media because once informed, Batswana are able to critique government better and as can be witnessed in the different voting patterns in rural areas, where there is predominantly state media, and in urban areas, where there is a wider variety of private and state media.
Tutwane noted that media freedom should also assess issues of sensitivity regarding death and carnal issues and added that keeping Batswana informed is in line with the National Vision of Vision 2016.
Other activities scheduled for World Press Freedom Day includes an expo and a peace march.