Sunday, July 25, 2021

US report highlights Botswana’s press freedom violations

Government censorship, content restrictions, lack of access to information and use of penal code sedition laws against the media; these are some of the examples of violations of freedom of the press by the Botswana government, highlighted by the 2014 United States Human Rights report on Botswana.

“The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and other NGOs reported the government attempted to limit press freedom and continued to dominate domestic broadcasting”, states the report. In 2008 parliament passed the Media Practitioners Act, which established a Media Council to register and accredit journalists, promote ethical standards among the media, and receive public complaints. The US report states that, “some NGOs, including MISA, the independent media, and opposition members of parliament, continued to criticize the law, stating it restricted press freedom and was passed without debate after the collapse of consultations between the government and stakeholders.

Officials had not implemented the act by year’s end.” The report further states that, “the government owned and operated the Botswana Press Agency, which dominated the print media through its free, nationally distributed newspaper, Daily News, and two state-operated FM radio stations. State-owned media generally featured reporting favorable to the government and were susceptible to political interference.

Opposition political parties claimed state media coverage heavily favored the ruling party.” It also emerges in the report that, “some members of civil society organizations alleged the government occasionally censored stories in the government-run media it deemed undesirable. Government journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship.” According to the report, “the independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views, which frequently included strong criticism of the government; however, members of the media complained they were sometimes subject to government pressure to portray the government and the country in a positive light.

Private media organizations had more difficulty obtaining access to government-held information than government-owned media. The report also makes reference to last year’s arrest of Sunday Standard Editor Outsa Mokone. “In September police arrested Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone and charged him with sedition for articles about an automobile accident allegedly involving President Ian Khama. Observers noted the use of the penal code’s sedition clause for a newspaper article was unprecedented and further noted the Sunday Standard had recently published several articles exposing corruption allegations within the DIS. The case continued at year’s end.”

According to the report, “the law restricts the speech of some government officials and fines persons found guilty of insulting public officials or national symbols. The law states, “Any person in a public place or at a public gathering (who) uses abusive, obscene, or insulting language in relation to the President, any other member of the National Assembly, or any public officer” is guilty of an offense and may be fined up to 400 pula ($42).” The penal code also states that any person who insults the country’s coat of arms, flag, presidential standard, or national anthem is guilty of an offense and may be fined up to 500 pula ($53).”

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