The director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Botswana Thapelo Ndlovu has lambasted the newly published Media Practitioners Bill.
In an interview with Mmegi yesterday, Ndlovu dismissed the Bill as an attempt to curtail media freedom in the country. "This Bill is not friendly to the media at all particularly when one looks at the issue of registration and accreditation. You have to remember that the media is covered by the right to freedom of expression in the Constitution," he explained. He added that journalists cannot be expected to exist under the same rules as other professions. "First, journalism serves a special role in any democratic system and that is why a free media is seen to be central to a successful democracy. The practice around the world and in the region is to let the media be self-regulating. You cannot put the media under any particular institution because everyone and every institution has an inherent interest in controlling the media," he said.
He is shocked to see the current draft which he said is devoid of the media fraternity's input. This is despite the fact that the government had done extensive consultations to get the media's views. However he said he is not really surprised by the Bill because during its development, there was no further consultations. "You would have thought the consultations could have gone on until some sort of draft was developed but the minister went ahead, ignoring our initial input and brought something like this" he said.
"We thought the Ministry (of Science, Communications and Technology) was interested in freeing the media but you can tell with this that it is doing the opposite," he said.
Former MISA-Botswana director Modise Maphanyane said if government is interested in developing the media, it should put enact the Freedom of Information Act instead of the Bill. "A freedom of Information Act would assist in freeing the media and it is important to assert that you are serious about developing your democracy than coming up with something like this" he added.
He urged all stakeholders in the media industry to rise up and lobby in every way they can to stop the Bill from being passed by Parliament. He warned that it was an ominous sign of things to come. Under the envisaged legislation, the Minister for Communication Science and Technology will have power to appoint members of committees in the Press Council. These include the complaints committee.
The Bill says the Press Council will monitor the activities of the media and ensure the maintenance of high professional standards and to provide for the registration and accreditation of resident media practitioners. Media practitioners will be required to get accreditation from the body before they can work in Botswana. The governing body, or executive committee of the Press Council, will be appointed by the council from among council members.
The council will issue a Code of Ethics to be followed by media practitioners. The code will cover duties and obligations of media practitioners. The Bill provides for the establishment of a Complaints Committee to which any aggrieved parties would seek redress.
It is envisaged that the council will attend to issues related to the media industry, including competition and professional standards. As it stands now, the media is fully self-regulating with an independent Press Council which has no relations to any institution. The Press Council has a complaints committee.