This is the Day we celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world and particular in Botswana, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. We also confirm our solidarity with those who continue to be harassed by the system just because they are doing their job.
We should note that annually over 100 national celebrations take place each year to commemorate this Day. UNESCO leads the worldwide celebration by identifying the global thematic and organizing the main event in different parts of world every year. We point this out to demonstrate the magnitude of these celebrations. They are recognised internationally and messages that come from these celebrations have an international platform and impact.
The international day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a Recommendation adopted at the 26th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991. This in turn was a response to a call by African journalists who in 1991 produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration on media pluralism and independence.
Again note here that we as African journalists pressurised the UN to recognise this day and of course the profession. Ladies and Gentlemen we must continue the pressure, let us continue to educate the citizens of Botswana, we must expose corruption, promote good governance, push for people friendly policies, among other things. This is what we do best. To put cherry on the top we must be as professional as possible in executing our mandate.
The Theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day is “Let journalism thrive: Towards better reporting, Gender Equality and Media Safety in the digital Age.” This theme basically cast a net on the principles of our profession with a punctuation of the challenges we face today.
We must thrive as journalists. There is need to enhance efforts by relevant stakeholders in order to secure a safer working environment for journalists. As we all know UNESCO has reaffirmed its position as the global leader in the promotion of safety of journalists and tackling impunity.
As Botswana we must localise this stance for coming up with comprehensive strategies that could ensure our safety at the courts, gatherings, Parliament, and other areas where we execute our functions. Our safety must also extend to the new media.
We have observed here at home that some of our compatriots have become victims of cybercrime laws. Without risking contempt, ongoing cybercrime cases are an indication that we must step up efforts to equip our journalists with knowledge so that they understand their navigation. In addition we must lobby government for media friendly laws. There is no doubt that Media friendly laws will ensure better quality reporting. Social media is a welcome development, but it comes with a burden of challenges that we need to understand and craft a safe exit route. Our journalists are confronted with legal and ethical challenges as far as the social media is concerned; there is need for us to engage in dialogue and refine our ethics handbooks to accommodate the new media. Our legal friends must come to our assistance to ensure that self-regulation is not tainted by a lack of preparedness in regard the new media. But let me hasten to point out that we are ready and willing.
We have a lot of concern areas as journalists in Botswana. Most of the issues have been on the table for a long time. We continue to complain about lack of Freedom of Information Law, Lack of Whistle blower protection law, Refusal by Government to repel the Media Practitioners’ Act, among other things.
We must be aware there are many archaic laws that do not support our professional obligation. Some of the sections are in the Penal Code, National Security Act, The Cinematograph Act, and many other laws. We can only urge journalists to read more on these laws so that they understand the extent to which they are constrained in the Watchdog role. There appears to be an increase in defamation suits and the awards are scary hence the need for awareness and way forward on the matter.
One area of concern that the Press Council wishes to highlight is that of government’s decision to stop advertising with the private media. This is a very unfortunate decision. The employs thousands of young people and we have academic institutions producing thousands of graduates for this very same industry but the government wants it to die. Our view is that government is obliged to support the media industry. We pay taxes (Company Tax, PAYE) among other things and of course we create jobs! It is a pity that in the effort to gag the media, government also wants to increase the already high levels of unemployment! We propose that government be engaged on the matter and its potential consequences be shared without fear.
Press Council of Botswana