Attack on media challenged

SHARE   |   Sunday, 29 March 2015   |   By Keitebe Kgosikebatho

The Media Practitioner’s Act is demonstrably unconstitutional, and violates sections  of the constitution and hence should be repealed, says Gaborone Central Member of Parliament Phenyo Butale.
Butale was presenting a motion on Friday requesting parliament to repeal the Media Practitioners’ Act (MPA) which  has  remained  dormant because of opposition by the media fraternity to among others, the accreditation of journalists. Butale’s motion is due for debate next week.
The Media Practitioners  Act  requires  registration and accreditation of all media practitioners  in Botswana with the newly  formed  Executive Committee- despite  the existence  of the independent  Press Council. The difference  between the Press Council  and the Media Council  in the MPA, he said,  is that the former is comprised  of independent  media workers, whereas the latter  is comprised of government  appointees. “ Self-regulation is now  statutory regulation. Furthermore, the provision  is not clear  on whether  accreditation  of media practitioners  may be refused and under  what circumstances,” said Butale. This uncertainties he says cannot be ignored  for it  later may be used to deny  access to journalism. “The provision  fails the necessary  test of  precision and clarity,” he said.
The political appointments of complaints and appeals committee according to Butale compromises press freedom. Section 11 of the MPA empowers the minister  to appoint  the complaints committee  while section 17 empowers  the Minister  to appoint  the Appeals Committee. Butale argued that because of these occurrences “the dangers  of social engineering, self-censorship, and government interference  suddenly become present  in a country where,  for most  of its history, democracy and human rights  have been seemingly miraculous reality” .
The youthful legislator who himself is a qualified media practitioner and boast of a well detailed curriculum vitae  in the field  also pointed out that the broad  definition of media practitioner by the Act was itself problematic. According to Butale  the MPA practically  defines  most of the public  as a “media practitioner” and therefore  liable for a criminal  penalty.
The Act defines , a media practitioner  as a  person engaged  in the writing, editing , or  transmitting  of news and information to the public. This Butale says does not distinguish between a  businessman, an investor, a correspondent, a journalist, an opinion writer, a book publisher, a cartoonist, a photographer, and a caller  in a radio program. “If  anyone engaged in ‘transmitting information’ is to be registered  and accredited with the council and therefore eligible for up to three  years in jail or a P5000 fine, it is certainly not a long way  to go before the state simply controls the right to know,” said Butale, adding that the act is  not just of importance to journalists. "Every Motswana and every democrat must be concerned,"  he said.
Given uncertain, vague and unclear meanings that the MPA  gives, Butale argued that if  (section 6) is attacked before the high court, the court shall have no option  but to strike it down  as it is inconsistent with section 3(B) read with 12 (1) of the constitution of Botswana.
For a long time, Butale says the local media environment has been described as free, without persecutions of journalists, but says the latest iincidents however are starting to  qualify this freedom of the press, especially since the enactment  of the Media Practitioners Act (2009). “Freedom House, in its 2011 index, described Botswana’s media freedom as partly free as opposed to free,” he said.
MISA Botswana has since the enactment of the Act opposed it stating that it violates the basic principles of democracy. The local media body has indicated that they have already submitted proposals to OSISA and UNESCO to assist them to push for the repeal of the act.

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