Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Khama victory is emphatic enough

I am shocked at the lack of rigour and just the sheer recklessness displayed by Mr Thapelo Ndlovu in his analysis of events in Botswana over the last 18 months in his article headlined “The BDP is under threat” last Sunday.

If this is the caliber of leadership that journalists in this country have to put up with, then the fourth estate in Botswana is in trouble.
I will only confine myself to those aspects of Mr Ndlovu’s article where he makes reference to me.

When he explains how President Seretse Khama Ian Khama intends to “abuse” the state media, now that it is under his office, Mr Ndlovu says I “failed to pick up” the fact that “the issue is not the private media’s coverage of the president but that of the state media”.
Suffice it to say that I hold very strong views about the state media. I have always advocated a public broadcasting model as opposed to a state controlled media.

However, I cannot allow that to cloud my judgment regarding indiscretions of the private press to which I belong.
As a self-respecting journalist, I have to be concerned when the press takes sides in an internal dispute of a political party. During the build-up to the Kanye congress, journalists could not hide their support for one faction of the BDP.

During the Gomolemo Motswaledi court case saga, journalists were embedded in the plaintiff’s corner. This is wrong.
Journalists are supposed to report on and analyse events in a dispassionate manner not as active participants.

Otherwise, they cannot be trusted.
Mr Ndlovu says I frown “at the description of President Khama as a dictator”. I have never expressed an opinion on whether President Khama is a dictator or not. I wonder if Mr Ndlovu knows what a dictator is. It is frightening that the leader of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) can use such an emotive term with such reckless abandon.

Mr Ndlovu says he does not understand what it is that I “want the media to feel guilty of”. The media doesn’t have to feel guilty of anything, especially if it is its conviction that their reportage is professional and ethical. However, it remains my considered view that the press did the nation a disservice by preoccupying itself with their perceptions of the character of the President, instead of focusing on bread and butter issues that impact on the lives of Batswana, especially at a time when the country is going through one of the worst recessions in recent history. .

It is for this reason that I maintain that instead of interrogating Khama’s policies and his service delivery record the media turned the election into a referendum on Khama’s leadership style.

Mr Ndlovu says I have “asserted” that “by voting the BDP the people have belied the media’s exposure on President Khama”. I have a serious problem with Mr Ndlovu’s choice of words. I am not aware of any “expose” done on President Khama since he took over. I would challenge Mr Ndlovu to point out one. Having said that, I maintain that the voters were quite emphatic in endorsing Khama as their man in spite of the press portraying him as a Frankenstein.

Mr Ndlovu says, “It is the people’s choice to decide if they want to make the media issues determine their votes and in fact this is not unique to Botswana but is identifiable with vulnerable voters who are easily swayed by some populist antics”. This is laughable.

I don’t think Mr Ndlovu himself understands what he is saying. In an earlier paragraph he says, “Although very vibrant, the private media runs only in the brims of the urban areas and mainly influences the elites in Gaborone Central.”

It is dangerous to make such generalisations which cannot be backed with facts. The issue of media influence is a very complex subject. Media scholars are divided on the matter of whether the media influences the way people behave or not. And up to now the jury is still out as to whether indeed the media influences people’s choices or not. Mr Ndlovu does not seem to be aware of this. His constant reference to the media as a significant variable in how people vote is too simplistic, to say the least.
Mr Ndlovu concludes by saying that he is tempted to think that the “sudden weird way” in which I look at things could be due to the fact that “placement of advertising has been moved to the Office of the President”.
This is another patent lie.

Advertising has not been moved to the Office of the President. Anyway, what is “weird” about saying that in the view of the majority of voters “Khama is just what the doctor has ordered for Botswana”? I thought I was stating the obvious. The BDP won 45 parliamentary seats, compared to BNF’s six and five for BCP/BAM. At local government level the BDP won 337 seats compared to BCP/BAM’s 73 and 69 for BNF. This is an emphatic victory for Khama by all accounts. Anything more than that would have been a whitewash!

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