Africa-Press – Botswana. Minister for State President, Kabo Morwaeng’s Media Practitioners Association Bill 2022 has finally been published in the Botswana Government Extraordinary Gazette dated 21st June, 2022.
The objectives of the Bill are to establish the Media Practitioners Association in order to promote and protect the freedom and independence of the media, ensure the maintenance of high professional standards by making provision for the establishment of the Complaints and Disciplinary Committee, which will receive, investigate and deal with complaints involving the media.
The bill also makes provisions for the registration of journalists and media enterprises.
The Voice staffer, DANIEL CHIDA, engages a Publisher, Journalists, a union leader, and the Editors Forum Chairperson, to get their views.
The law is a result of long conversations and consultations between Botswana government and the media, especially media bodies such as Misa Botswana, Botswana Editors Forum and trade union, BOMAWU.
This law replaces the Media Practitioners Act which was a source of rancor between the media and government.
The law is not perfect, in fact I don’t know of any law that is perfect but it goes a long way to address valid and genuine concerns raised by the parties during their consultations.
Others in the media have forcefully argued against the law saying instead there should be the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
We actually continue to call on Botswana government to bring the long promised FOIA.
The biggest threat facing the media today is litigation and the unreasonable quantums offered by the courts against media houses and this law goes a long way to mitigate against that.
Other than registration of journalists, which some of us still do not like, this law will also enhance professionalism and take care of the numerous grievances that the public have been expressing against the media.
More regulations have to be enacted by the journalists themselves to operationalise the law.
Of course, the devil is in the detail, but we should celebrate the fact that, on political interference, this law is fool proof.
All committees will be appointed by the practitioners themselves.
The media Practitioners Association Bill 2022 is very progressive and inclusive as there was consultation before it was enacted.
There are a lot of positives from it compared to the Media Practitioners Act 2008 which was draconian and gave the minister powers to control the Media.
The current bill will help the media to self-regulate and be able to bring back professionalism within the industry.
The Media Bill propounded by government is a grave threat to a Free Press.
This is primarily because it propagates the registration of journalists.
It should not be lost on supporters of this nasty piece of legislation that the media in Botswana is not run under the auspices of an independent ministry.
It is run by the Office of the President through the Ministry for State President.
The net consequence of this anomaly is that the state media encompassing BTV, Radio Botswana and Daily News is basically run as a public relations machine for government.
Government has long resisted efforts to turn state media into public media and allow for greater autonomy and independence.
This is unfortunate in an environment where statements by government departments and ministries have to be approved by the Permanent Secretary.
This is despite the appointment of Public Relations Officers at all the relevant government structures.
This delays responses to critical issues and undermines efforts to ensure that services are provided to Batswana speedily.
The issue therefore that desperately needs to be addressed is understanding logic of setting a defined criteria for registering journalists when such a criteria does not exist.
It is common practice, globally, for lawyers, HR professionals, medical experts, economists to write columns in newspapers.
That, however, does not qualify them to be journalists in the conventional sense of the word.
The South African journalist, Allister Sparks, did not study journalism but he rose to become one of that country’s most influential journalists.
Members of the public can also write letters to the Editor.
Journalism is a very inclusive discipline.
Any efforts to restrict its practice in a dynamic and very volatile environment where government is embracing neo-liberal structural reforms is suicidal.
The right to share one’s opinion in the kgotla is an entrenched part of our culture. Government should be wary of ditching this culture.
Politicians have more power than journalists but we are not witnessing any efforts to increase their professionalism.
Although efforts to appoint some members of cabinet from outside parliament is commendable and should be lauded, the concern remains that you do not have to have a basic academic qualification to be a legislator.
Nor is your access restricted if you have a criminal history.
This is despite the fact that the implementation capacity of government is frayed and questionable.
This legislation appears to have ominous overtures.
It could be used arbitrarily to target independent journalists who do not write glowingly about the government.
There are enough safeguards against malicious and slanderous articles.
Botswana has very punitive defamation laws.
It also has a moribund self-regulatory structure called the Press Council of Botswana (PCB).
A statutory Press Council is therefore an unnecessary duplication of efforts.
The Law Society and various non-state actors criticised the Media Practitioners Act.
It was our understanding that it would be repealed. I hope that sanity will eventually prevail and that the relevant minister retracts it.
Only a free press can effectively play its watch dog role for the greater public good.