Sunday, June 23, 2024

The media works best when it is free and independent

April 4 2010: Not so long ago, Botswana Parliament, that lapdog of the executive, hastily passed what was to be known as the Media Practitioners Act.

Under that piece of law, which has since been rejected by the Press Council of Botswana, Botswana Editors Forum and the Botswana Publishers Forum, the minister of state responsible for the media would effectively appoint himself/herself the executive editor of every newsroom in the country.
With the state media now under a tight leash, controlled directly from the Office of the President, the private media, we are told is not disciplined well enough.

It would do with some form of control, from the Minister.

It’s difficult to see how political interference can ever mix well with media freedom.
Political interference in the media operations is always a dangerous project, but it is winning many supporters as the battle for control of the ruling party intensifies.
There is always temptation to control not just the message but the messenger, but the ongoing crisis at the BDP has taken the madness to new heights.

The control of the media by politicians can only intensify with the BDP infighting.
While we naturally regret the invasion of the media by the honchos that run the BDP, we should thank them for their behavior has inadvertently shed some light on what they really wanted to achieve with their Media Practitioners Act.

Recent abuse of state media by the ruling faction of the BDP has laid bare what pitfalls lie ahead should the Media Practitioners Act be allowed to see the day.
With state media now under tight control, the next phase is to seize on what little independence is left with the private media.

As a species, politicians can never be trusted, no matter how well meaning they may pretend.
Botswana media is by no means perfect.
There is not a month, or should I say a week, that passes by without me feeling somewhat ashamed that I am a part of this establishment.

Some of the mistakes are so elementary as to be unpardonable.
In fact, on no less than one occasion I have personally been a victim of such mistakes.
It’s a feeling I cannot wish on anyone.

But however horrendous the mistakes, the media cannot be left to the whims of a politician as the Media Practitioners Act envisages.

Just as they do not have to claim any more rights than other sections of society, the media should also be steadfast not to claim any less.

In a span of just two years, the once blossoming state media, especially BTV which was attracting a lot of young talent, has all of a sudden collapsed into the shadow of its former self.
Many young journalists who a few years ago were literally falling over themselves just to work there have departed, leaving behind a station that has degenerated into a butt of jokes.
For all its defects, the private media remains far much better when put side by side with endless drama at Botswana television and Radio Botswana. At least the public still regards the private media as a source of news.
By the look of things, there is no question that BTV is too important for politicians to leave alone.

In a country where thousands still cannot read, and where the private media is not doing much to reach beyond the elite, television is a weapon of choice for a merciless government intent on hiding the truth from the masses.

The relocation of state media to the Office of the President has not helped matters either.
Now the authorities no longer have to bark instructions from a distance or through third parties.
The lackeys are just a phone call away ready in their eagerness to pick the dirty tidings of their masters, most of the time voluntarily.

For as long as they are micromanaged by politicians it will be impossible for BTV, Radio Botswana and the Daily News to perform their public mandate which is to inform the nation about government policies and programmes.

Many people seem surprised at the large number of professional journalists who are now too happy to take instructions from politicians.

But that was always going to happen immediately when journalists believed that for them to be successful in their careers they had to suck up to politicians.
The situation is worse for BTV and Radio Botswana where the thin line dividing party and state has been blurred as to be obliterated.

Dignity, pride and integrity now no longer have a meaning.
It is the political connections that run the roost.

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