Tuesday December 17, 2019 will go down in the annals of history of Botswana media as a day when the frontiers of press freedom in the country were pushed in a profound way.
For the first time in the history of the media and that of the judiciary in Botswana, cameras were allowed to roll inside the courtroom.
The broadcasting and live-streaming of the cases became possible as a result of the successful application to the High Court by Dikgang Publishing Company (DPC), the publishers of Mmegi, on Monday.
Acting on behalf of our digital platform, Mmegi Online, the Company moved to court to seek permission to have the court proceedings streamed live on the grounds of public interest.
Permission was granted on Tuesday morning, and this opened the way for other media houses, including the government owned Botswana Television (Btv) and Radio Botswana, to broadcast the proceedings live. As one of this country’s pioneering media houses, DPC, hails this development as a positive step in the right direction. Not only does it promote transparency, but it also inspires faith and confidence in our institutions as members of the public witness for themselves how our courts dispense justice. Also, in practical terms, the decision to broadcast the cases live reduced the congestion in the courtroom, because members of the public could watch, or browse, or listen to proceedings on their television sets, cellphones, laptops, and radio from their homes, workplace and even from their cars as they drove from one point to another.
But, more importantly, this victory is a reminder to the media and civil society that freedom does not come on a silver platter. Freedom is fought for. Media practitioners should use all avenues, that are legitimate, to fight for their rights and freedom, but also defend these without letup. For us the
We wish to take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to the three judges who presided over our application, namely Michael Leburu, Mercy Garekwe, and Godfrey Radijeng for the swift way in which they dealt with it and pronouncing on the matter in a very decisive way. We thank them for their progressive disposition and collective leadership by making such a determination, which does not only deepen our democracy, but also enriches our jurisprudence. They seized the moment and made a profound decision which, hopefully, has paved the way for similar coverage of other cases of public interest in the future. We also thank the parties involved in the cases, namely the Independent Electoral Commission, Botswana Democratic Party petitioners and UDC petitioners for not opposing our application. They, like us, believed that this was an idea whose time had come, and they all ensured that it was realised, much to the benefit and delight of Batswana at large.
“Justice Brennan was right: the media and the courts are locked in a mutual, if
sometimes uncomfortable embrace.”
– Rt Hon Beverley McLachlin PC