The questioning of local media editors by the police this week could appear to have been a normal police investigation work. However those with an expert eye view this as new danger to media freedom where criminalisation of media work could become a new common feature. The media fraternity was shocked on Wednesday when editors of Botswana Gazette, Botswana Guardian and Sunday Standard were summoned by the police for questioning on the source of the Tholwana Borethe report that they reported about recently. Many thought it was a government crackdown on the media only to be shocked to learn that it was arising following a complaint registered with the police by one of the opposition parties that has been advocating for free press, Botswana Congress Party (BCP). According to the letter from BCP to Police Commissioner Keabetswe Makgophe, BCP President Dumelang Saleshando wanted the authors of the alleged Fake report to be charged for publishing fake news without a just cause. He stated in the letter that the alleged fake report details how the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) meddles in politics by illegally and wrongfully spying on opposition political parties in Botswana with a view of destabilising them. “It is imperative that this fashionable and emerging trend of manufacturing fake intelligence reports, rumour and false statements and causing them to be published in the newspapers should be nipped in the bud. Such bogus publication cause unnecessary fear and alarm,” reads the letter.
Media lawyer Joao Salbany in his social media page says that the penal code exonerates those who made the publication if they took measures to that would lead to him reasonably to believe that it was true. “In order to make assessment on whether to charge or not the police would have to demand that journalists disclose their sources in order to ascertain if the measures used to verify the story were done. Journalists do not disclose their sources,” said Salbany, adding that Freedom of Expression and corollary access to information through the medium of media will be at the forefront of the litigation.Deputy Secretary of International Federation of Journalists Anthony Bellanger said to protect your source is to protect your information and your independence, and to protect your independence is to guarantee the quality of the information.“The right to protect journalistic sources is recognised by international law. It has been recognised by the United Nations,” he said.
Chairman of the Botswana Editors Forum Spencer Mogapi said they were shocked but not surprised by the developments as it has shown that of recent some opposition members were becoming intolerant of the media.“It is a clear signal that when they assume power they are going to censor the media and we have come to the realisation that Botswana Democratic Party is more tolerant that the opposition,” said the worried Mogapi. The editors, who were accompanied by their lawyers, have sought time to look into what the police require of them and are expected to respond in due cause.