Inside Khama’s media ‘war room’

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Early this year, the Ian Khama administration introduced a monitoring system to identify critical media and starve them of advertising.

Sources at the Office of the President (OP) have revealed that a ‘war room’ like committee periodically sits to monitor the “proportions of negative, neutral and positive coverage over the analysis period.”

“The committee monitors how all the media houses give coverage to all government ministries and President Ian Khama.  The idea is to starve those media houses that are critical to the administration of adverts. The ministries and the parastatals have been instructed to reduce their advertising revenue in the negative media houses,” a source said.

Another source said they are convinced the fourth estate would eventually feel the pinch and toe the line. Since the introduction of the monitoring system, the government has stopped advertising in some media like the Mmegi group. However, the evidence from a report entitled, Media Monitoring Reports for April and May and the Combined Advertising for Ministry and Parastatals System from the OP does not show that advertising revenue from media deemed pro-government has improved.

For instance the chart for the media overview for the period April 1–17, 2015 shows that out of 103 articles written about the government and Khama, there were more positive and neutral ones. The chart shows the proportions of negative, neutral and positive coverage over the analysis period.

In the same period under review, Mmegi is leading with the number of articles written about the government. The newspaper wrote 18 articles followed by the state owned Daily News with 16. The Monitor and Ngami Times are the lowest with two articles each. Some of the trending stories during the period were headlined: MP Moswaane summons President Khama; President Khama defies Parliament on land quotas; and Suspension of the BNYC chairperson and BOSETU threatens to cause further damage to education.

Likewise the chart for media overview for the period May 2–8, 2015 shows that out of 129 articles, there were more neutral and positive stories written about the government than the ones considered negative. In the period under review, the Daily News reported 17 news articles about the government, ministries, Parliament and Khama.

Mmegi and Sunday Standard followed the Daily News with 13 articles each. The Voice, a tabloid did not write a single article about the government, ministries, Parliament and Khama. The popular stories that were covered by a number of newspapers include; DCEC raids Gazette offices, Sections of DCEC Act declared illegal, DIS dismisses allegations which links it to Noroc Technologies, BPC to limit electricity use and Water tariffs set to increase.

The combined advertising for ministry and parastatals on April 27–30, 2015 was sourced to Daily News. Hence no private media organisation received a single advertisement for the period. Meanwhile, for six months to March 2015, excluding December 2014, a private consultancy monitored the adverts in all independent newspapers. The consultancy monitored the newspaper adverts from September 2014 to March 2015.

“The monitoring of advert placements from government departments was done so as to determine whether there is an increase or decrease in the rate of government adverts in privately owned newspapers. The launch of this monitoring tool was as a result of the government’s decision to reduce advert placements due to financial constraints,” reads a prelude to the consultancy report.

The report has a table showing that there has been a decrease in advertising in some newspapers. For example, Echo adverts reduced from 42 placed on a monthly (November 2014) basis to 10 adverts in March 2015. Other newspapers that have had a decrease in adverting include The Patriot on Sunday, The Midweek Sun and The Ngami Times. “For some newspapers, the rate of advertising fluctuates in the sense that there can be more adverts in the current month, then less adverts in the following month, for example Mmegi, Botswana Guardian etc.”

The advert placement in newspapers from September to November 2014 was high as compared to January to March 2015. Another chart in percentages indicated that The Botswana Gazette was hard hit, followed by Sunday Standard, Mmegi, Echo and The Patriot on Sunday. The Botswana Guardian, Ngami Times, Business Weekly and The Voice were the least hit, according to the report. 

Media Institute of Southern Africa Botswana chapter director, Buyani Zongwane has refused to be drawn into discussing the OP report or actions saying that they together with the affected media organisations are currently engaging the government on the issue.

The communications director at the Botswana Government Communication and Information System (BGCIS) Russ Molosiwa however refuted claims that the government was using findings from his office to starve the private media of advertising.

“I do not see how the system we use here can starve the private press. It would rather empower it with information they need for background information. We gather information that has been said or written on government and all its coverage and put it into one hub,” he explained.

Molosiwa added that: “Governments across the world have such platforms where they monitor what is being said about them.’’

BGCIS was established through a presidential directive to manage and coordinate government communication. It is meant to promote effective and interactive communications between government and the public and improve the quality of government information and communication.

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