The Media Practitioner's Act has been described as an assault on the fundamental liberty of Freedom of Expression enshrined in the Constitution.
The law, which requires that journalists be registered or accredited to the government is made to curtail something that is not enshrined in the Constitution, 'but that which is part of our self-understanding as people'.
Secretary General for the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) Reverend Prince Dibeela, said during the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day in Gaborone on Saturday that there is a general intolerance on the part of the ruling party with regard to people who speak 'out of turn' from their policies and political direction.
"Some of us have been saying for a while now that there is a systematic process of voices in our country that do not sing the tune prescribed by those with legislative power," Dibeela said.
He was concerned that the country is moving away from the adage that mafoko a Kgotla a mantle otlhe as the Act is altering this worldview and suggesting mafoko a Kgosi a mantle fela fa a itumedisa kgosi kana babusi.
Dibeela further said media in the country has had a love-hate relationship with the government over the years. He commended the media for having distinguished itself for being robust and critical in a culture where people are generally laid back and submissive to the leaders, despite its many challenges.
"This is of course what has vexed the government and led to this piece of legislation," Dibeela said.
He added that the law is a direct assault that is meant to intimidate and manage what comes out of the media houses.
Dibeela was concerned by the intransigence and self-importance of the majority party in Parliament.
"But our system is such that because of skewed nature on the representation in parliament, laws are passed without sufficient discussion. The backbench of the ruling party used to add value to parliamentary debates by speaking their minds on critical issues affecting this country, but the current leadership has continually threatened and silence them," Rev. Dibeela said.
He was also concerned that Botswana is fast becoming a 'big brother' state. "We are increasingly creating a society that is over-regulated. Every other week there is a new law or a directive that is meant to control us and the way we live our lives," Dibeela said.
He said beside the two most controversial laws that were recently enacted, that is, Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services and Media Practitioners Act, there is also a plethora of directives to do with entertainment industry, traffic regulations and public conduct. "The challenge though is that the way these regulations are developed is a departure from our usual culture of consultation and consensus building," said Dibeela.
He said even though Botswana is the most outspoken and critical of draconian governments such as Zimbabwe, they may as well have plagiarised the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) of the Mugabe regime.
Today it is the journalists being regulated and required to register with the government. My question is: Who is next? Will it be the pastors, scholars, teachers and all other professionals? Will it in fact even be husband and wife in their relationship? Where will this stop?" Dibeela asked.