July 3, 2009
It is disappointing to report that the government of Botswana, by far the largest advertiser in the private media, has decided to restrict its spending. The consequences of this are clear: while the “public” media (the government-run Daily News) can continue to circulate the country, the independent dailies such as Mmegi or the much-maligned Sunday Standard will no longer have the money to make it to the meager fractions of Botswana they currently can. The Daily News turned a blind eye to the May 13 Kalafatis shooting while the private media rightfully cried foul, and now it is this propaganda mouthpiece whose information freehold will be strengthened by the government’s latest action.
Presidential spokesman Jeff Ramsay adamantly denied that the government intended to strangle the private media, saying the advertising restriction had been planned since 2006. So why now? Ramsay cites the economic downturn, but that reason is already a year old and smacks of an excuse. We at MISA Botswana believe the new advertising restrictions are yet another attack on the integrity and independence of the press, and a shameful attempt to silence the outraged citizenry of Botswana.
Several years ago, the High Court of Botswana was faced with a similar case, but Justice Isaac Lesetedi ruled that the government “would be wrong…to use advertising as a tool to influence the editorial direction of a particular newspaper.” (Botswana Guardian, June 26) Today, when the editorial independence of the private media is once more at stake, we have to wonder if the Khama administration has chosen to forget Lesetedi’s precedent.
The government is now starving the independent press of funds, just like it deprived it of its right to information when Minister Venson-Moitoi locked the private press out of the Kalafatis press conference in May. This is a worldwide trend (look here and also here) and it must be stopped. We once more ask for your help and pledge to continue our fight.
PS: In another worrying sign, Minister of Defence, Justice, and Security Dikgakgamatso Seretse said there was no need to set up an independent inquiry into the extra-judicial killing of John Kalafatis, and blamed the recent rise in shootings on an increase in crime. Botswana continues its antidemocratic slide.
June 26, 2009
We’ve hit an important point in our campaign. The Media Practitioners Act is being put to use for the first time, as the president’s sister, Jacqueline Khama, has demanded (under MPA provisions) that Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone and reporter Reuben Pitse be barred from practicing journalism. This unprecedented action prompts us to ask you, the readers, to let us hear you.
Is the Media Practitioners Act justified? In this case? In all cases?
June 19, 2009
Since Monday, MISA Botswana has been running a stall at BOCONGO’s annual NGO Week. We think it’s been a big success for a few reasons. First, our petition (now available online) collected a few hundred signatures and we got the chance to tell local Batswana our views on the Media Practitioners Act and what they could do to help. Secondly, a public discussion on Thursday gave voice to a host of concerns about the MPA and the state of democracy in Botswana, and several people told us they felt like they had a better grasp of the issues afterward. And finally, we think NGO Week was a success because it was there that we officially launched our Bua! campaign (find out about it here). Several dozen people came in and had their pictures taken–we hope to expand this campaign over the coming weeks until we have thousands of faces and an opportunity to tell the government that the MPA is repressive and wrong for the country.
In the news, our initial relief at President Khama dropping his lawsuit against the Sunday Standard was replaced with outrage when we heard the president’s sister, Jacqueline Khama, had filed suit to ban from reporting (or “de-register”) a Sunday Standard reporter and editor. This kind of legal action is now possible under the Media Practitioners Act, regardless of how thoroughly it tramples on the principles of free expression. But we haven’t even mentioned that the Appeals and Complaints Committee that Ms. Khama has applied to doesn’t yet exist!
Our newsletter has unfortunately been delayed until Monday. If you would like to subscribe to it, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 15, 2009
In this week’s issue of Sunday Standard there was a stirring letter to the editor from a Zimbabwean national, comparing the slow crackdown on human rights under Mugabe to the current situation in Botswana. “I squirm a little when I see certain things happening in Botswana for I am hit by déjàvu,” he writes. “I have seen it all before.” The painful parallels, such as how Botswana’s DIS and Zimbabwe’s CIO (Central Intelligence Organization) both answer only to an executive rather than the constitution or the opposition to critical press, are growing more visible. Botswana must not become another Zimbabwe.
But the signs are evident that we have already begun the slide. One of the country’s beleaguered opposition parties, the Botswana National Front, was denied a permit by the police to march against the recent rash of extrajudicial killings. President Khama has allegedly extended private security to his sister and other immediate family members. And one month after John Kalafatis’ murder, the government has refused to apologize for or even acknowledge the illegal nature of the killing.
In a bit of good news, the Monitor reported that President Khama withdrew his lawsuit against the Sunday Standard. The defamation suit, centered around allegations of Khama’s involvement in the May 13 Kalafatis shooting, was the first time in Botswana’s history a president has taken a newspaper to court. The Monitor commended the action as “a step in the right direction for the president and our democratic society,” but decried the accessibility issues (being locked out of the Kalafatis press conference, for example) that led to the conflict, saying the lawsuit “should never have come up in the first place had the advisors…performed their task.”
MISA Botswana also released a statement welcoming the president’s move.
This week MISA/COFEX Botswana will have a booth at NGO week, and our first newsletter should be out by this Friday. Stay informed and always be ready to speak out.
June 12, 2009
In the past few days we have seen little action in the fight against the MPA, but several important developments in the fight for Botswana’s democracy. In an interview with the Botswana Guardian, former president Quett Masire came out with a somewhat heartening, but mostly ambivalent response to the rash of extrajudicial killings, saying he wouldn’t start “poking my nose into the matter,” but when asked if he was concerned quipped, “Who wouldn’t be concerned?”
Yesterday there was a story (which the government denied as rumor, and admittedly only quotes “sources at the government enclave”) that President Khama had beefed up his personal security.
More frightening is another Gazette story about a law student who was “stripped naked and tortured” in broad daylight by five police officers in Gaborone. The officers said they were going to “fix” him, despite his never being charged with a crime, and proceeded to beat, suffocate, and eventually detain him and deny him access to a hospital. The police have said they will investigate.
Elsewhere in the world of Southern African democracy, today Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai made a much-anticipated visit to Washington D.C. to speak to President Barack Obama about the progress of the Zimbabwean Government of National Unity (GNU). Here in Botswana, we await the results of this discussion and hope issues of human rights find their way to the fore. Speech and press freedoms have been under the boot of the Mugabe regime for decades now, and we welcome their promotion as a means of strengthening Zimbabwe, our immediate neighbor. However, we also hope President Khama is keeping an eye on the situation. He has long been a strong advocate of democratic change in Zimbabwe and a staunch opponent of Mugabe, but in light of that, his turn toward Mugabe-style repression has become a true and tragic irony. We hope the human rights question being debated in Washington reaches Khama’s ears.
Keep this website bookmarked to stay informed, and thank you.
June 10, 2009
Welcome to the Coalition for Freedom of Expression Botswana (COFEX Botswana) blog. We are a campaign dedicated to reclaiming freedom of the press in Botswana, where it and other human rights have been threatened by repressive and antidemocratic legislation. Our mission is to create awareness within and outside Botswana about these harmful laws and look for ways to counteract them. You can help promote responsible, equitable, and free African democracy by taking a look around this website and learning about the issues. There’s information about issues of freedom of speech and the press in Botswana, the Media Practitioners Act and our fight against it, and related national and regional developments regarding democracy, human rights, and the media. You can also find links to newspapers and international press freedom agencies, and most importantly, ways to help Botswana and its people reclaim democracy. If you would like to know more about our work, please click the “About” tab at the top of the page. If you would like to sign up for our weekly newsletter, please notify us by sending an email to email@example.com.