Last week, government finally went soft on the Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Controlled Investigation) Bill of 2022, by amending some sections which received resentment from some quarters of the nation.
The larger part of the Bill that caused commotion referred to interception of communication and forced disclosure of information for the prying eyes of the State intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Firstly, there were qualms with the certificate of urgency under which the Bill was debated in Parliament. The situation meant that it will be expedited and not get enough scrutiny and interrogation from the public. Secondly, the public had issues with the provisions of the Bill that allowed the State to pry on them. This caused furore amongst Batswana.
The Bill was eventually passed last week Friday with some of the disturbing sections removed or amended thanks to public pressure.
Amongst those sections that were at the forefront of the fight were on the media’s watchdog role, the civil society and labour movement. The groups deserve a pat on the back because they relentlessly fought for the protection of the people’s freedom and human rights.
Notwithstanding the role that some sections of the society played, it was evident that this time the media’s watchdog role came out in display. The media fought bare-knuckled with its relentless reporting on the Bill and succeeded in getting government to make changes on the matter.
In the day-to-day life of a busy media person, it is easy to overlook the fundamental principles that are at stake when going about one’s work.
The local media newsrooms face constraints that include deadlines, squeezed budgets, limited resources, demanding managers and overtly hostile set up that make for a challenging work environment. Sometimes this makes it easy for journalists to lose interest in performing their watchdog role, and let governments do as they please without checks and balances.
But on this occasion, the local media was alert and became very proactive. For instance, Media groups that include MISA Botswana, Press Council of Botswana and Botswana Editors Forum raised alarm to the international community about the “draconian” Bill.
The media groups reached out to the rest of the world in protest while seeking help. The advocacy role helped shed light on what is happening and exposed government to international scrutiny. The pressure was enough for the government to re-think the Bill and go soft.
As such the media and other groups such as the opposition bloc and the labour movement should be credited for putting pressure on government during this time. The work they did will go a long way in safeguarding the democracy of the country. Kudos!