Advertising used as weapon against perceived ‘enemies of the State’
When Media practitioners convened at Limkokwing University of Technology last Saturday, it was evident from the speeches that a lot still needs to be done to maintain professionalism in the industry.
With the advent of social media platforms, gate-keeping has suffered a blow and the public is regularly fed wrong information with no accountability.
This has come to the attention of Vice President Slumber Tsogwane who was guest speaker at the World Press Commemoration Day, saying the perpetrators have resorted to abusing an otherwise good invention meant to improve the lives of its users.
The Vice President said the advent of social media has presented an opportunity for some to feed the public with false information and that this cannot go unchecked, and urged media houses to come up with strategies to counter fake news.
However, he assured journalists that the Constitution of the country will continue to protect them when performing their duties, and that they will continue to enjoy freedom of expression.
However, journalists from the private media accused some government officials of using advertising procurement as a weapon to fight media houses they deem to be ‘enemies of the State’.
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They added that there is a tendency of some officials to refuse to share information or respond to media enquiries in a bid to frustrate news stories about their incompetence or corruption.
Veteran journalist Dikarabo Ramadubu of Botswana Guardian said there was a time he nearly lost his job after some officials insisted that he should reveal his sources for a story he wrote about them.
The Botswana Media Workers Union president Philimon Mmeso said working conditions for journalists in the private sector need an urgent scrutiny, adding that things can only improve if the government places advertisements on private newspapers unconditionally.
Chairperson of Botswana Editors Forum, Emang Mutapati, acknowledged that the climate of press freedom has improved since the arrival of President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, and that the government has committed to deepening professionalism in the media.
However, she said there are many challenges that face the private media that include government limiting of advertisements on private media in favour of state media.
She warned that this has had negative impact on efforts to expose corruption especially that state-owned media is not subjected to BOCRA regulations.
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“Vexatious lawsuits against media in the form of SLAPP’s are on the rise and proving to be a serious threat and worsening the private media’s already precarious financial situation with punitive damages awarded by the courts,” she said, adding that some laws such as sedition have been, and could be used against the private press.
She therefore encouraged the government to address a number of weaknesses and gaps in the legal framework by introducing Freedom of Information Act; introduction of whistleblowers protection law; reforming some criminal laws restricting press freedom; and protecting journalists and media houses from vexatious lawsuits, among others.
Furthermore, Mutapati called for mobile service providers and advertising agencies to be mandated to provide at least two percent of their revenue for media development and capacity building.