BNF supports ethical journalism

The Botswana National Front (BNF) notes with disappointment the continued propaganda, innuendoes and lies peddled against its president Cde Duma Boko and his party by some few select journalists.

The fabrications date far back to pre-2014 general elections where his family was dragged in under the guise of him being a public figure. Some journalists have sworn and are on record expressing their hatred and disrespect towards Cde Boko and even stated that they will not objectively write about him. These unsolicited and sustained attacks on Boko and his party have naturally led to party activists coming out to defend their president as they realise there is no recourse to justice. The media oversights have not restrained these unethical journalists and the message is that wayward behaviour is acceptable. While we admit that Cde Boko is a public figure and therefore subject to public scrutiny, this licence has been grossly abused as he has been insulted, belittled and ridiculed.

There have always been allegations and perceptions that some of these journalists are either spy agents or recipients of brown envelopes. They must be cautioned that the BNF and Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) are on high alert and will jealously guard its integrity and values. It is clear that some of these journalists want to create a negative narrative on Cde Boko so that the public loses confidence in him, the BNF and UDC and to create space for its competitors. This is why the opposition activists have come out in large numbers to defend their president and their parties whom they feel are unfairly treated. This is an election year and the same journalists have openly vowed to de-campaign UDC so that they deny it the inevitable win. However, while encouraging cadres to protect and defend the movement we hasten to discourage and condemn violence, under any circumstance.

There has been gross unprofessionalism by these few journalists who have even dragged the media profession in the mud. Instead of giving the public news, they want to be the subjects of news. There have been clear cases of plagiarism, misinformation, slander and all unethical conduct and no action has been taken as the same misdemeanour continues. Even where the party has made some rebuttals, the same media house/s have not bothered to publish the party side or have ridiculed the responses. Some media houses have blacklisted the party and do not even publish its press releases.

There is nowhere for the complainants to report journalists who violate media ethics. The same people who the public are to report to are the same transgressors of the media ethics or their colleagues. There is a cabal of journalists, some in senior positions, who relish on social media by tagging each other along to mob attack, ridicule and insult Cde Boko and the parties he is associated with. Some of the journalists have even used crude and unprintable language.

The BNF is aware of journalists’ code of ethics. While there are several media codes of ethics globally and they are substantively similar, the party would like to cite from the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics:

Seek truth and report it. It states that ethical journalism should be accurate and fair.

 - Never deliberately distort facts or context. Never plagiarise. Always attribute.

Minimise harm. Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. Pursuit of the news is not a licence for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.

Act independently. Serving the public is the highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism. Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts. Refuse gifts, favours, fees, free travel and special treatment and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.

Be accountable and transparent. Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly. Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organisations and abide by the same high standards they expect of others.

It is with regret that some of our journalists have grossly failed to uphold these standard media ethics and have since played victim and use their own media houses and colleagues to further launch vitriolic and malicious attacks on the selected opposition parties, at the same time appealing for public sympathy.

The BNF supports media plurality and self-regulation and not hooliganism and provocative unprofessionalism as demonstrated by some media houses and journalists.

There should be credible media oversight, specifically the revival of the Press Council of Botswana, to protect the public from these unethical journalists. The journalists should be equally protected from the public when conducting their professional work.

It is on this note that the BNF calls upon all to find sustainable and professional ways of resolving these differences. We all need each other in a plural democracy and freedom of expression is for us all.

Justin Hunyepa*

BNF Secretary for Information and Publicity

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