Government has confirmed a news blackout on some of the recent opposition parties’ activities, saying such did not meet the editorial policy of state media agencies, Btv and Radio Botswana. State media reporters have been talking loosely that their seniors have informed them that former speaker of the National Assembly Dr Margaret Nasha is not news worthy, and hence they covered her launch rally when she was unveiled by the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) but did not broadcast it. The launch of UDC by-election candidate for Sekoma and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between UDC and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) have also not received state media coverage.
Btv editorial policy
On what happened to the footage of a recent UDC rally in Maruapula, the Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Phillip Makgalemele told parliament that the footage was not used because it did not comply with Btv’s editorial policy. According to Makgalemele, state media including Btv derives its editorial policy from the purpose for which they were set up by government which is publicity and to promote policies and programmes that benefit Batswana. “Whether covering political or other types of events, state media including Botswana Television is guided by the basic principles of journalism and nation building, that is factuality, accuracy, truthfulness and being ethical or in good taste relative to matters of public interest,” he said.
Makgalemele said like any other professional media establishment, state media reserves the right of editorial decision making with respect to what and when to cover, and if or not to broadcast material collected. “It is up to Btv Management to decide what to do with any material that is collected in the news gathering process and found to be inconsistent with state media editorial policy,” he said. He further stated that it was not the first time that Btv covered an event that it subsequently did not broadcast nor was it the last time. To substantiate this, he cited a BDP political rally in Old Naledi on the 6th of December 2015 and a BDP political rally in Palapye recently which were not aired after Btv management determined it to be inconsistent with the editorial policy. “I must state in the most unequivocal language that it is not correct that Botswana television coverage is provided to only BDP launches of candidates for elections as the questions seem to suggest,” he said.
According to Makgalemele, his ministry does not interfere in editorial decisions and that the issue of fair and equal coverage between opposition parties and the ruling party is an old debate and a matter of opinion making, because fairness in one person’s opinion is not necessarily fairness in another person’s view.
“The notion of my ministry somehow ensuring what is referred to as public interest in Btv coverage and reference to narrow political and personal interests in Btv news coverage is unfortunate as it both suggest that my ministry should interfere with editorial decisions,” said Makgalemele.
Nasha banned for her book
This publication has established that after her book “Madam Speaker, Sir! Breaking The Glass Ceiling; One Woman’s Struggles” which is very critical of President Ian Khama’s leadership style reporters at the government media were instructed not to cover any of her events. Surprisingly the censorship came while she was still the Speaker of the National Assembly. In the book, Nasha who was also cabinet minister accused Khama of being authoritarian. “If you allow him to take decisions on your behalf, he will not hesitate to do so. That is the President Ian Khama that Democrats have created, and then cry foul about his actions. They have themselves to blame,” she said in the book. This is said to have angered the authorities and precipitated her side-lining by the ruling party.
Nasha, who has always advocated for the independence of Parliament further infuriated Khama by refusing to sanction elections by show of hands, saying it ran contrary to standing orders passed in August 2013. She later lost elections for the Speaker of the National Assembly to Gladys Kokorwe, something which she said she knew about a year before as her relationship with Khama deteriorated. “Even if she is donating a house to the destitute we have been told that we can attend the event but won’t be published or broadcast any in the state media,” said a source at government enclave. Sources at Mass Media said that they were shocked when after covering Nasha’s welcome rally recently they were told that the news blackout was still in effect. The tapes are archival material only but not for public consumption, said the source.
Nasha, who recently left Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to join its offspring Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) under Umbrella for Democratic Change alliance, was involved in a political spat with her nemesis President Khama. Khama accused Nasha for being power hungry and in her response she said labelled Khama as illiterate and said he had the constitution amended to cater for him to be Head of State. Government responded and accused Nasha of misleading the nation especially on the constitutional amendment and stated that President Khama is educated. As a way of showing their displeasure at the news blackout on Nasha and some of their political rallies, UDC has formally registered their complaints with the office of Ombudsman. UDC Parliamentary spokesperson, Dr Phenyo Butale – MP for Gaborone Central - confirmed that they have registered their concerns. “It is not only about Dr Nasha’s rally but other activities including the launch of our council candidate for Sekoma ward and the Botswana National Front’s (BNF) 50th anniversary in Kanye recently,” said Butale.