May 3 has been set aside by the United Nations General Assembly as World Press Freedom Day. On this day Media Practitioners around the world celebrate the freedom to do their job without persecution.
The motivation to declare May 3 Press Freedom Day was to sensitise governments on the monumental importance of freedom of the press and to remind them of their duties to respect and uphold the right to larger issues of freedom of expression which, it had been observed generally received scant attention amongst most governments. It is no accident that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights underscores freedom of expression as a basic human right. This year's celebration was held under the theme 'Freedom of Information, the Right to Know'. In Botswana media practitioners, academics, labour unions, civil society and other interested parties have called for the introduction of a freedom of information law, but the government and legislators have largely remained impervious to this legitimate demand. A lot of information resides with public bodies and such bodies have a duty to share the information with whoever needs it. The public's right to know should be an over-riding consideration when access to information is considered.
As we observe World Press Freedom Day, we are bound to count some losses and celebrate some achievements. We implore our legislators to take a long hard look at the performance of our country and consider whether Botswana could not have made major advances if the country had adopted and implemented a freedom of information law as it is the case in progressive democracies around the world.
This country's media
The Media Practitioners Act is still a big blight on our democratic pursuits and we call on democratic individuals, legislators and organisations not to rest until this undemocratic act is rescinded and thrown where it belongs - the dust-bin of history.
Another development which is a cause for great concern in this country is that professional journalists who work for state media are subjected to persecution and compelled to perform serious professional breaches to protect the political careers of their masters. The Press Council calls for an end to political interference in state media, which is funded by national coffers and should therefore serve all without discrimination.
We take this opportunity to commend Botswana media, which has defied expectations and survived under an unfriendly environment. We salute their indefatigable spirit and perseverance. As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, the Press Council of Botswana urges all media practitioners to always perform their duties to the highest professional and ethical standards.
GIDEON NKALA is Chairperson -Press Council of Botswana