BDP govt should free Btv, play fair

Staff Writer
What happened to Botswana Television's news item about Gomolemo Motswaledi's resignation from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)?

The BTV news crew was very conspicuous with lights and cameras amidst the 200 or so people that sat and stood at a press conference called by the new Botswana Movement for Democracy at which Gomolemo Motswaledi announced that he was quitting the Botswana Democratic Party.

Conspicuous with their lights and cameras was also the state-owned Botswana Press Agency. While all the other media houses that attended published or aired the story about Motswaledi and Barata-Phathi, Botswana Television is yet to air its piece.  Most likely, the story will not see the light of day.

Briefly, it has been spiked, in journalese. It is this ad hoc banning of select news items that should reach the viewer that makes BTV content mediocre.  No, it is not that the reporters and producers have no idea about what they are doing. They are restricted in their work and professionalism remains an illusion for them.

That BTV lacks some technical expertise in some areas is without doubt. That is not cause for alarm. It is the apparent stringent government control that is freaking people out. It should be the worry of every citizen when the government broadcaster fails to bring to the nation reports that should inform their decisions about important issues that affect their lives.  Even more disturbing is the fact that it is not just Btv whose content is controlled by people who know nothing about journalism, or at the very least, news reporting. Also in trouble are the two state controlled radio stations, RB1, and RB2, as well as the Daily News and Kutlwano magazine.

All these have national reach. Quite obviously, whoever is responsible for censoring these media hopes that he or she can keep the truth away from Batswana in the hope that they will remain ignorant about what is happening in their country.  So a person in some remote area of Botswana, who has not had the opportunity to hear a friend, or read or hear from one or the other media, but has a television that receives BTV, will not know anything about Gomolemo Motswaledi's resignation from the BDP.

That Motswana will not even know that there is a new party. So, the "sanctioner" must believe. Freedom of the press, as many developing nations have found out, is a very important aspect of their development. Stifle the media and stifle economic development.  Stifle journalists as we see happening in the state broadcaster and publisher and you have poor quality programming as the journalist's very creativity is stifled. In fact stifling the media, is really stifling democracy. 

One would like to see the formation of a new political party as a sign of a maturing democracy; something that Batswana as a nation, including the government, should be proud about.

That news about the BDP is not seen on

Btv though it might be aired by Radio Botswana shows the extent to which the national broadcaster is used unfairly to promote the ruling party, and that is worrisome.  You can almost bet that the planned Saturday rally by President Ian Khama in Francistown will be given full coverage by Btv and Radio Botswana. 

There is everything wrong with a broadcaster that is used as an instrument of the government of the day to portray issues from the side of the government only.  It is wrong when Btv and Radio Botswana report news to suit the ruling party and neglect to give the side of the opposition. So you would want to agree with Gabriel Kanjabanga when he recently threatened to take BTV to court for not allowing him airtime to discuss issues affecting his party, the Botswana National Front (BNF).

This past week, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) spokesperson, Sidney Pilane, challenged government to give his party airtime. It is not the first time that opposition leaders have complained about the issue. The summary of government's censorship should be seen as a sign of a democracy in peril. It is a sign of a stagnant democracy.  For the right of the media to air views from all sections of the society - in the case of politics - from all competing sides, is an important indicator of a country's democracy. We cannot claim to be a democratic country when there is interference in what the media reports. Too many accolades about Botswana being Africa's shining example of democracy should not hypnotize us as a nation. And the nation should refuse to be hypnotised when the country's much cherished and envied systems collapse. Yes, Botswana conducts elections regularly.

However, the process cannot be called democratic if all political parties are not given fair coverage. The vibrancy of a democracy is seen in the coverage of critical and controversial issues by the media who necessarily include those government officers who so much yearn to be recognised as journalists.

It is only when that happens that the citizen can be enlightened and empowered to make decisions about issues of national importance. This is the only way citizens can be enlightened and empowered to make decisions about issues of national importance.

Surely no person wants to be deprived of important news that could affect their lives simply because it involves the opposition. Yes, let Btv and Radio Botswana broadcast news about opposition party troubles - as the stations often so well do - but let us also hear the national broadcaster discussing the ruling party's troubles. 

Anything else will be an attempt to indoctrinate the people. And those whose idea it is to indoctrinate will, like an addict, want to keep doing it until the whole thing becomes a scourge.




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