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Home » News » Weekend Life » New book delves into Botswana’s journalism

New book delves into Botswana’s journalism

Publishing Date : 05 February, 2018

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Journalists on privately-owned newspapers in Botswana are doing a pretty good job, but those who work for government-owned media are seen by many people as propagandists.


All journalists in Botswana are hindered in their work by restrictive laws and a government that often refuses to tell people what is going on. These are some of the findings in a new book News in Botswana: themes in contemporary journalism, written by Richard Rooney, associate professor and former Head of the Department of Media Studies at the University of Botswana. It is the most comprehensive book on journalism in Botswana yet published.


Journalism in Botswana is dominated by government-controlled media in both print and broadcasting. Government owns the biggest media houses with the Daily News, Radio Botswana 1 and 2 and Botswana TV. The government also owns the Botswana Press Agency.


Rooney says the government has put considerable resources into the Daily News so it competes unfairly with the independent press. The biggest competitive advantage that the Daily News has is that it does not have normal production overheads, since all these are taken care of from government funds. It also receives hidden government subsidies because it is delivered on government land and air transport as a matter of policy. Unlike private newspapers, the Daily News is delivered free-of-charge to most areas of Botswana and in rural areas it is often the only print media available.


The Daily News competes for advertising and undercuts the rates offered by private media companies. Advertisers prefer the Daily News because they want high circulation to reach the maximum number of people. Private commercial radio stations are also disadvantaged by the government which competes for advertising. Government is the largest employer, business entity and advertiser in Botswana and is not averse to using this to give media it controls commercial advantages and in so doing distort the newspaper market. Rooney says, “Government can and does pull advertising from newspapers it deems to be too critical of its policies and it can coerce companies in the private sector which want to keep in its favour not to advertise.”


News in Botswana: themes in contemporary journalism is available free-of-charge on the Internet at www.academia.edu
In a survey of how media houses support good governance in Botswana, Rooney finds that although freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitution there are 15 laws in Botswana that can restrict the work of journalists. The worst of these is the Media Practitioners Act of 2008 that allows the government to decide who can and cannot work as a journalist. The Act continues to receive great opposition from media freedom advocates and has yet to be put into operation.


The book reveals that people widely recognise that the Daily News and the state-owned broadcasting outlets have mandates to promote government policy and they favour the coverage of the ruling party the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) over opposition parties. This happens all the time but is especially worrisome at election times when people rely on news media for information about the policies of political parties.


Rooney says that members of civil society in Botswana believe, “The government directly interferes in the editorial content of the Daily News, and engages in unbalanced or propagandist reporting.” He gives an example in 2011 when an article about the Botswana Government giving P1 million to Japan following its devastating tsunami in March 2011 was withdrawn from the Daily News by “higher authorities” as it was felt this would not be welcomed during the then on-going public workers’ strike.


Rooney says some journalists fear the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DISS) that became operational in 2010 because its mandate in defending state security is unclear. People fear the DISS spies on ordinary citizens. Private media in Botswana have reported that employees of government media live in fear that the DISS is monitoring their activities.


There is a big market for newspapers in Botswana and they cater for a wide range of readership needs, from the overtly serious to the decidedly non-serious. However, all newspapers have a common problem, Rooney says. Too many articles originate from government or from staged events and the voices of ordinary Botswana are hardly ever heard in news media, whether newspapers, radio or television.


Rooney’s research suggests a main reason for this is that media houses in Botswana are generally under-resourced, and privately-owned newspapers in particular cannot afford to have large staffs or freelancers throughout the country. They therefore rely on contributors who know that journalists need a constant supply of material to meet their deadlines and therefore go about supplying it. Political parties in Botswana are especially aware of these needs.


He reports on a series of workshops known as the African Media Barometer that asked people what they thought about the quality of journalism in Botswana. They said journalists on privately-owned newspapers were doing a reasonable job but they were hindered by scarcity of resources and deliberate attempts by government officials to withhold information. The lack of resources in media houses means that most content is urban-based with rural areas in effect side-lined by the newspapers.


They said experienced professionals left journalism to enter public relations and communications because they were not growing professionally or were not being paid enough. Rooney reports the workshop participants said reporting in private newspapers was generally fair and was not considered to be “gutter journalism” although accuracy, fairness and balance were sometimes found to be lacking. “Generally, Botswana journalists are not corrupt and have a very high standard of moral integrity,” the workshop participants said. News in Botswana: themes in contemporary journalism, by Richard Rooney. Available to download free-of-charge from www.academia.edu

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