Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)

Botswana: Abolish State Press Monopoly

editorial

World Press Freedom Day is celebrated on May 3, two days after 'Workers' Day', perhaps by coincidence, but possibly also by a fortuitous act of history.

The 'press' owes its beginnings to the concern among a few of the educated elite who treasured the principles of democracy, wanting the huge masses of the marginalised protected from the excesses of the privileged few who controlled money and power. In modern times, the world celebrates 'press freedom' in the belief that it remains a cherished component of the practice of democracy. Sadly though, the world must confess to itself that the cruel vices against which 'press freedom' was established have adapted to the principle of freedom of expression, corrupting it whilst smothering it. The drive for profit, deposited in the hands of a few multinationals, about 100 of whom own by far the largest majority of newspaper, radio and television houses, overwhelms the social good, which could be brought by the right of people to freely express their opinions, and to be protected against the vicious urge for taking advantage of the weak, dispossessed, the infirm, unemployed, and alas, even the workers in the factories and on the farms!In Botswana, it was the aim in the early days when the country achieved political independence, to allow the state to announce its 'development' programmes through the government owned radio stations and newspapers. Then, it could be said, only the government possessed the required means to finance and manage huge enterprises such as radio and print houses.

It was also assumed, immediately after independence that those who fought for it deserved to control everything that came out of the newspapers and the radio.

It is no longer so. Democracy has developed its own institutions that include the formal and informal education systems or culture if you wish, a broadened economy, a wiser civil society, informed sub-classes or ethnic groups, empowered women and children and opposition parties and journalists. These groups finance the state. They want protection from it. One of the ways by which they get protection is to get good information that has not been turned into propaganda by the politicians and vested interests.

That is precisely the notion on which rests the principle of a 'free and independent press'.In Botswana, the largest part of the press lies in the hands of the government represented in the ruling elite, the rich and the political authorities. That makes a free and independent press impossible to gain.

Perhaps, as the journalists fight for their rights, they ought to recognise that their most urgent goal is to relieve the political authorities of control of the state press, and to put the taxpayers' money to better use by introducing proper and honest 'public broadcasting' and community-based media.

The country has none. Now that the government has acceded to the ILO conventions that allow government workers to unionise, the state media workers would join and participate fully in the Journalists and Allied Workers Union in order to help drive efforts at defeating the state monopoly of ownership and control of Radio Botswana, Kutlwano, BOPA, Daily News and RBII.

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