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Will Masisi, private media smoke the peace pipe?

FRANCISTOWN: After a decade's dry spell during former president Ian Khama's era, the private media is warming up to possible cordial relations with the President Mokgweetsi Masisi-led government.

At a ruling party press conference in Gaborone this week, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) leadership paraded its catch from the opposition with the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) hardest hit after losing one of its senior members of the executive leadership, Kentse Rammidi.

It was at this presser that Masisi made plans for his party known to the media that he would regularly invite them to the ruling party’s events. He even highlighted that Vice President Slumber Tsogwane, who is also the party chairperson, will more often lead the party’s regular press conferences. Most interestingly, Masisi told the media that he was going to encourage his Cabinet to do the same.

One thing that he made clear from the onset was that he was going to make a distinction between party and government business, which sounded very interesting as often times the two are mistaken for Siamese twins.

Masisi also indicated that after the Cabinet retreat, there is expectation that he will call a press conference and explain, amongst others his recent trips outside the country, which are seemingly destined to improve the country’s international relations. Will the Masisi-led government soften up and relax its hard stance on the private press from the Khama era? Just like with the public sector trade unions, the Khama-led government did not see eye-to-eye with the private media to the extent that a plot was hatched at some stage to starve the Fourth Estate of its lifeblood, advertising.

The effects of this decision were immediately felt across media houses as a majority of them ended up laying-off staff due to collapsing revenue considering that the government is a main player even in this industry.

At some point, a plot to sabotage the private media by starving it of advertising mainly because of being critical of government and the ruling party was leaked and given wider coverage across the pluralistic media. The threat would later be executed. At the time, Masisi was a minister in the Office of the President.

On the sidelines of the BDP elective congress at the party’s luxurious marquee tent where meals were served, Masisi told the few media practitioners around the table that once he takes over, he will see what changes he will effect.

The media wanted to know what changes he will immediately make to rescue the already choking media in terms of his government support. By then, he was just freshly celebrating his re-election as the party chairperson. He sort of preferred to cross the bridge when he reaches it. He did not see the skirmishes that existed between the Khama-led government and the private media. Notwithstanding his explanations, his recent interactions with the private media raised hopes, which was not the case with his

predecessor who rarely had time for the private press, let alone address press conferences to allow the media to ask pertinent questions.

 The role of the private media should not be necessarily viewed from an extreme adversarial viewpoint, but rather with an attitude meant to force the ruling elite to remain accountable to the public. Ruling parties across the world have a tendency of clamping down on the private press so that it does not report effectively on its excesses but rather dance to its tune. In a true democratic set up, the media has to be left to hold its leaders to account without necessarily being a friend to anybody.

In essence, the media seeks to create and sustain public debate. Journalists examine in a truly radical way the assumption and premises of community.

The media’s role is to constitute public debate about, not within, the prevailing political order.

When Khama took over, he enlisted the government media under the Office of the President in an endeavour to control information, which is the best thing he wanted to do.

 University of Botswana (UB) political science lecturer, Leonard Sesa thinks the only thing that he appreciates so far is that Masisi has been addressing press conferences and thus interacting with the media including the private one, which was not easily the case before.

He raised the outcome of the quality of press conferences where Masisi has been talking about party matters, wondering when he is going to hold a press conference to address national development issues and field questions from the private press.

“At least he has opened up an opportunity and it shows that there is a forum where he can meet with both government and private media over pertinent issues,” he said, indicating that Masisi is yet to give the nation his roadmap and as such, the nation does not yet know the direction of his leadership.

Newspaper columnist and political commentator, Anthony Morima said yesterday: “I don’t think we have the basis really to make the call that he is changing or has changed his attitude towards the private media.” He observed that since Masisi was involved in anti-private media campaigns within the BDP and government before, he must come out clear and state his stance rather than leave the nation to second guess his position.

One of the signs that will show that Masisi has changed heart, according to Morima, is when he starts granting interviews to private media practitioners and parastatals supporting the private newspapers with advertisements.

“One would have thought he would have called a press conference to unpack his inaugural speech. He should also call an open press conference laying his roadmap on his 100 days in office to the media.”




The Parliamentary DIS

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