Monday, July 15, 2024

There was no need for DCEC to be dramatic

Someone once told me DIS Director General Isaac Kgosi enjoys fictional movies where people jump out of speeding cars and land on their feet unscathed or where Jackie Chan breaks someone’s neck with just one hand. Well, while I cannot vouch for the credibility of my source, one thing I suspect though is, our national security agents must be avid watchers of fiction television. They see themselves as our answer to the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jason Statham. You just needed to see them in action when they arrested Outsa Mokone, Daniel Kenosi and just last week Gazette journalists and their lawyer. But before we get deeper into the behavior of our security agents, let us look at public relations practitioners in Botswana.

It appears there is a really bad and irresponsible teacher out there who taught public relations officers in our country that the best way to deal with the media is to deny them answers even to the simplest of questions. It appears a template has been shared amongst local PR officers. When they are not insisting on written questionnaires, which they hardly ever respond to, they give this silly response; “can’t confirm or deny”. PR officers don’t seem to realize how this ‘can’t confirm or deny’ mantra makes them look incompetent, useless, confused and unsure of their mandate.

At this rate, I will not be shocked to hear of a PR officer who couldn’t confirm or deny his or her gender. It is really frustrating to seek answers from someone who earns a salary specifically to provide answers but would not give straight forward answers. Honestly, the person who coined this ‘can’t confirm or deny’ byword must be stoned to death because he has killed the core essence of the existence of public relations practitioners. Last week the DCEC and their cousins from the spy agency raided the Gazette Newspaper offices, confiscating computers and arresting journalists. We are told the newspaper’s sin was the publishing of information that the corruption-busting agency felt would compromise their investigations. That is utter nonsense.

It is sad how the DCEC wants to paint Gazette journalists as irresponsible, reckless and to some extent unpatriotic when the fact of the matter is, the DCEC public relations officer should be the to blame. Prior to publishing the story in question, it appears the Gazette did what every responsible media house ought to do. They asked the DCEC if they are, or were investigating the subject of their story and instead of a simple yes or no, the DCEC PR officer chose the usual waffle; can’t confirm or deny. Are we then saying the newspaper should have prophesized that the DCEC was investigating the matter when the agency’s spokesperson chose to speak in parables instead of simply saying “indeed we are investigating those allegations”?

I have no doubt that the Gazette Newspaper is run by responsible people who have the best interest of this country at heart and who would have not gone ahead with the publication of the story had they been made aware of the supposedly on-going investigations. It must be understood that the media as the fourth estate has a duty to inform the nation and they can’t be held at ransom by some public relations officers who choose to provide clumsy answers when asked questions. Just how were the journalists expected to know of the investigations without confirmation from the DCEC? We are not even suggesting journalists are above the law. All we are saying is, without confirmation from the DCEC, there was no how the journalists would have known the publication of the story would compromise the DCEC investigations.

I have been following public comments on the matter and was shocked at how some people were elated by the ill-treatment meted out on the Gazette newspaper. To some, the Gazette journalists deserved the humiliation and the inconvenience. A friend on Facebook wrote this; “The laws of the nation applies to everyone equally irrespective of one’s profession. Journalists, lawyers, doctors and any other profession are equally bound by the laws of the nation. If you are a journalist and you contravene the law, you will be arrested and be dealt with according to law. The fact that one is a journalist does not make him or her immune to arrest if there exists reasonable grounds that they may have committed a criminal offence. Further, the mere fact that a journalist is arrested and charged in relation to his work does not mean that there is an onslaught on media freedom. The same applies to all other professions. I just don’t understand what the fuss is all about in Botswana”.

Just as I was about to respond to him, a good friend of mine, Oteng Chilume, came on board and gave a perfect response; “Sometimes, journalists contravene the law in the best interest of the country…I don’t think it’s enough to use the rule of law guilt trip and disregard the fundamental reason why journalists take some of the risks to break the law. When FBI Deputy Director, Mark Felt, provided Watergate information to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post in 1972, he was breaking the law but it served a greater good than the mere idealization of law…he’d have been hung by the neck if he were African, but no one can deny the value of what he did today. It’s easy to spite the media and project it as a bunch of delinquents, many democracies have benefited from the gutsy work of journalists. Sedition law in Uganda would have never been abolished if it wasn’t for a belligerent broadcaster pushing the limit.”

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