US ambassador preaches importance of media freedom

The just credentialled US ambassador to Botswana, Earl Miller says media freedom keeps societies and economies vibrant, energetic and strong.

Officiating at a five-day investigative journalism training workshop in the capital Monday, Miller noted that the media were the public’s eyes and ears.

He implored journalists to ensure that their readers were armed with the information needed to effect change, to make decisions about who to vote, and ultimately, to hold parties and electorates accountable.

“The media is the public’s eyes and ears. And you, as the eyes and ears of Botswana, must keep tabs on the myriad issues that have important implications for Botswana’s future,” he said.

Miller added that in a democracy, citizens must have free and unfettered access to independent information if they were to understand and assess decisions made on their behalf by their elected representatives and those in power. “Those in positions of power have a responsibility to respect the public’s right to know, to engage in public business in an open and transparent manner, and to create a legal and political climate that nurtures and protects media freedom,” he said. Moreover, he noted that that included those in positions of power tolerating the sometimes “unfair and inaccurate slings and arrows the media throws at them”.

Most importantly, Miller called on members of the fourth estate to the incredible responsibility in their hands- accuracy, objectivity and comprehension.  “Journalists must learn about the issues they cover. Their political views must not shade their interpretation of the facts,” he said.

He added that sensationalism was not journalism, and did not contribute to a healthy democracy. He spoke against rapid sensationalism in some local papers. While he acknowledged that journalism was not an easy line of work, Miller implored practitioners to uphold the first obligation, which is to honour the truth, as well as adhering to the discipline of verification.

“Botswana was ranked ‘free’ by Freedom House in its 2014 report, just one of seven African countries to receive that honour. But that’s not the whole story, as last September’s arrest of The Sunday Standard editor, Outsa Mokone, underscored,” he said.  

The training, which ends on Friday, is a collaboration between the US embassy, IREX- a US based nonprofit organisation committed to international education in academic research, professional training and technical assistance, and Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Botswana.

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