A move by the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) to amend its regulations has since brought spotlight on a regulation that prohibits local broadcasters from securing third party sponsorship from foreign governments without the approval of the regulatory body.
Section 29 which deals with restrictions on dealing with foreign governments and appears in both the existing regulations and the draft regulations clearly states that, “A licensee shall not acquire any licence, right, privilege or concession from a foreign Government, or enter into any agreement with such Government, without the approval of the Authority.”
This however has sparked suspicions from some that, this might be government’s efforts to frustrate local broadcasters and tighten its grip over what the media does and associate with. “ sponsorship and support from foreign governments are the most efficient and lucrative, imagine if BOCRA was to disapprove of such for some reason known to them” said one concerned broadcaster.
Upon being quizzed about the said section in their regulations, BOCRA Public Relations Officer Mothusi Matlhodi said there were a number of factors that were considered before the regulating body could approve an agreement , for example the regulator may consider if indeed the sponsorship will be used in an activity that is line with the licensee’s mandate, BOCRA could also look at cost of declining or approving such sponsorship. In a nutshell Mothusi says the regulatory body was guided by it financial regulations.
According to Matlhodi though the section may seem new to some people now that they are reviewing the draft regulations, the truth of the matter is it has always been there and has already been applied in several instances. “Yes BOCRA has on several occasions declined to approve a licensee’s application to get into agreement of some sought with a foreign government” he said.
Gabz FM programmes Manager Kenneth Moeng however dispute BOCRA’s claims that the section 29 of the regulations have always been in use and implemented. “Not in the regulations I signed for in my license,” Moeng charged. He says if ever it was true the section was in use then they could have sought approval for their parliamentary debates which were aired live prior to elections.
As a business, Moeng says the regulations will disadvantage them, as they are going to be required to seek approval for a every little engagement they enter iin with foreign governments. “ We have to write and seek approval for every little thing including spot announcements, adverts, endorsement and it cannot be good for business” he said.
He further indicated that his superiors are going to clearly indicate their displeasure at the particular clause’s implications.
Yarona FM Station Manager David Moepeng however declined to comment on the matter saying they have forwarded their feedback to BOCRA and had sought clarifications on certain sections of the draft regulations hence until then they will reserve their comments.
The past elections saw the ruling party suffering the most fatalities in the history of this country’s politics. For the first time the BDP suffered a decline in its popular vote, recording a historic decline of 47 percent. This was partly attributed to private media (including broadcasters) who provided a platfrom for opposition party candidates to sell their campaigns to the voters. Although opposition parties had constantly accused the ruling party of abusing the national broadcaster Botswana Television and Radio Botswana to advance its campaigns, the ruling party countered by accusing private press of forming an allegiance with opposition parties and giving BDP bad publicity. Thus regulations such as section 29 of the BOCRA regulations are seen by some as a way of containing the private press by the BDP government.
Prior to the general elections the BDP boycotted Gabz FM political debates which were sponsored by the United States Embassy in Gaborone.
Reached for comment regarding said the regulation, the U.S embassy highlighted their long history of working directly with civil society, including the private media, in Botswana on a range of issues, including those related to democracy, human rights, and transparency and accountability.” U.S. Embassies world-wide frequently support private media to carry out programs aimed at fostering platforms for democratic growth and freedom of expression. As Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Under President Obama, we have made support for press freedom one of the recurring themes of United States foreign policy.”