Monday, October 19, 2020

The ‘Watchdog Role’ auctioned to the Lowliest Bidder?

Issues of governance strike a chord with me. Lauded as Africa’s jewel, where matters of democracy and the respect for the rule of law are concerned; more so on the eve of the golden jubilee commemorations, I cannot sit back and watch in defeat, when everything else seems to point in the other direction. And we have had quite a lot to write home about in the last couple of years, if media reports are anything to go by.

But the ludicrous episode has been the tiff between the two media powerhouses: Mmegi Group versus Sunday Standard Group of newspapers. Others might know better than me, but as one who analyses the news content, I started sensing bad blood with the undercover journalism initiated by the Sunday Standard that exposed the Monitor Editor Monkagedi Gaotlhobogwe as a mercenary of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) ÔÇô whether true or false, it was the duty of the subject to put things into perspective. On March 7th, 2016 Sunday Standard published my analysis under the heading; ‘Is our Journalism going to the dogs?’ what I viewed as an ethical issue in carrying out journalistic work under the circumstances described in the mentioned article.

Hardly four months, the row has reached its zenith with a lawsuit and countersuit entertained by the two parties. It would seem factually correct that the Sunday Standard was at it again, provoking the Mmegi Group with stories that explicitly offered readers a peep into the ‘capture’ by the property Moghul Sayed Jamali, who it is clear from the reports that he manipulated the Managing Editor Titus Mbuya and Metlhaetsile Leepile to front as share-buyers, only for him to retain the largest in the end.

The Luke 6:29 verse ‘turn your other cheek for your abuser to smack you hard’ did not appeal for Mbuya. He returned with stinging venom ÔÇô treating readers to shady deals between the American international spy agency; the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its associates as behind the financing of several projects owned by the Sunday Standard. In a two-part series, Mbuya seemed to have done his investigation to bring to the fore, murky work of ‘sell-out journalism’ employed by the Sunday Standard. Not only did he expose the seditious inclinations of the editors and proprietors of the Sunday paper; he also explicitly called them criminals who have lined up their pockets with an advance that was meant to be a benevolent ‘seed money’ from the late Louis Nchindo, who was well known to all of us. I am sure Garvas Nchindo will be knocking, or already started to trouble the implicated editors for refund.

The die is cast. The daggers are out.  The floor is the bloodbath. The truth is the casualty. But what will it benefit us the readers and consumers of these tell-tales? At a personal level ÔÇô I declare my affinity with both establishments, Mmegi having been where I got a journalist job upon completion of my overseas studies nearly two decades ago, while the latter has been home for my in-depth analytical pieces since five years ago. I can comfortably claim to enjoy trust relationship in both camps, characterized by the ardent belief that journalism is not fiction ÔÇô but a trade of putting out facts, sweet or bitter because consumers need to make informed choices in the end, without being influenced to think in a certain direction. Even as I write now, my disappointment with our current media landscape and the crop of journalists who give us their views and hide behind the ‘might of the pen’ as having reported news stories, is indeed an abdication of moral duty. Hard-hitting news stories do not stand out from opinion and editorial pieces, where writers enjoy the freedom to make their own reflections ÔÇô whether you agree or disagree with me is neither here, nor there.

What I am missing in the whole fracas between the media giants is: where is the role of the watchdog? When does the watchdog start to bark and bite? The sorry state of affairs between the two reputable news organisations reminds me of a lame dog next door, that simply waits for the watchdog to sense danger and start barking to keep intruders at bay, only for the lame one to join in the chorus. If for real, I must treat the expos├® by the Mmegi as credible, (and I have no reason to doubt Mbuya’s investigative skills; he remains one of the best reporters to this date) ÔÇô my gripe with my former employer is: was he prepared to sit on this colossal amount of information of national security, for as long as Outsa Mokone (assuming it was he, who penned the articles) had not published those two provoking pieces about the Mmegi establishment? In other words, I am sitting here and imagining just how many other media houses have closed ranks by establishing some informal alliances of ‘I won’t expose your evils as long as you don’t dare me’, and if truly we have such a media industry, can we really boast democracy to be envied by other nations? Alone, I don’t believe so. We’ve reduced Botswana to a mockery. We can do better than our current.

My guess is as good as yours ÔÇô the two sides are ready to spill blood. The most recent development has been the pointed response by the uncompromising Mbuya, who sounds clearly set to wear no gloves for a real bare-knuckle fight. It remains to be seen what will become of the media giants (apparently ÔÇô both who are under tight ‘capture’ by moneyed guys, who dictate the news content consumers must take in) slugging it out in whatever fashion they may deem proper to ventilate their frustrations with one another. Alas, the reader is ill-treated as the accusations fly back and forth, but my prediction is that like a pie in the air, this scenario will unlikely unravel further than what we have seen in the prominent pages of the two news publications ÔÇô what a great pity that our journalism must go up in smoke like that! Is this a rendition of ‘those who live in glasshouses must never throw stones?’ Perhaps ÔÇô but I want to hear a categorical ‘no, your article is inaccurate and inconsistent, herein are the facts as outlined below…I am missing such a response from both camps and that is what can allay doubts in a level-headed reader and consumer of news. After all ÔÇô we pay to consume news on a daily basis.

If the media cannot play the watchdog role as it is evident from this illustration, good governance dictates that we as the citizens must hold the media accountable. As it is, the two media houses are nothing but stooges of two diametrical opposing political philosophies, so much even those who left school at break time can tell that our journalists ‘have sold their souls to the devil’, unashamedly between the: Botswana Democratic Party and the Umbrella for Democratic Change. The scenario will only get worse as the nation inches towards the 2019 general elections’ year.

Mr Mbuya and Mr Mokone, I beseech you as respected journalists to return glory to the noble profession that it is, reporters working for the establishments need not be constricted by your take on politics. Partisan politics truly messed up the fragile journalism and we are making no progress in advancing democratic ethos for the whole nation, as a result. Between yourselves, you have enjoyed the freedom to carry out investigative journalism during your hay-days and received honour and respect in your own rights as reporters of repute ÔÇô don’t be selfish in your capitalist approach to stifle and choke growth of those under your tutelage. Let reporters do their work uncompromised, while you join the media and publicity committees of the respective political parties as consultants ÔÇô I am sure they will pay you heftily for they need your public relations gimmicks. This skewed reporting is only insulting the readers’ intelligence and over time, it forces us to lose our steam and when the lid pops up ÔÇô it is chaotic! 

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