BOMAWU shakes up the media industry
He burst into the spotlight of Union politics with the much -talked about media blackout on a jazz festival last month.
As a seasoned and practicing journalist, who has published with different newspapers over the years, the president of the Botswana Media and Allied Workers Union (BOMAWU), Philimon Mmeso was however not a stranger to the limelight.
This week the hunter became the hunted when Voice Journalist, Onneile Setlalekgosi sat down with Mmeso for an interview on how he hopes to revolutionaries the media industry in Botswana through BOMAWU
Q: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, recently you have been visible and vocal on matters of professionalism in the media as well as on issues of journalists’ welfare.
You were even heard recently encouraging journalists to stand up and not be intimidated when reporting on matters of corruption. What is the mandate of the Union?
BOMAWU is a newly registered workers union representing an estimated 300 workers in both the private and state media.
Our primary mandate is to look after the welfare of media workers.
We also concern ourselves with issues of professionalism in the media.
Q. You seem to have hit the ground running with the controversial ban on coverage of jazz festival and the current boycott of key BDP meetings. Why is that?
We feel a pressing need to restore respect and dignity to the profession and to restore the power of the fourth estate.
The media in this country has become very weak because of economic reasons.
The jazz festival organisers disrespected journalists and acted like they didn’t need us, so we were left with no choice but to boycott their show until they decided to play ball. It worked!
The BDP on the other hand has effected a ban on advertising, which has adversely affected the welfare of our members.
We have seen some of our colleagues being retrenched because of financial difficulties brought about by the advertising ban on the media.
There’s also a new trend of harassment of journalists by the government, which the BDP has failed to condemn.
The BDP has decided to launch an ‘economic blackout’ on the media so we also decided to take a similar position and effect a ‘political blackout’ on the party by not providing coverage to the party’s key meetings as a way of forcing them to dialogue in order to find solutions.
We decided that if the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain.
Q. But the BDP Secretary General, Botsalo Ntuane pleaded with the Union to hold the ban until the 11th of April Central Committee meeting where the Union’s concerns are expected to be discussed, but you still went ahead with the ban, why so?
We are still lobbying Editors’ Forum to see which way to take forward.
The advertising ban is a heavy blow to the media industry and it can’t be taken lightly.
After our consultation we hope that the ban will go on until Government stops harassing journalists and lifts the ongoing advertisement ban on certain private media houses.
We also want freedom of information bill to be enacted into law.
Q. There has been an allegation that the media blackout on the ruling party has been influenced by opposition parties, is it true?
We are definitely not influenced by opposition parties and we are not affiliated to any political party.
We are an apolitical organisation.
Q. How many Media houses are taking part in the BDP boycott?
All we know is that we are lobbying media houses to deny BDP coverage until we iron out issues, we do not have numbers yet as the lobbying is still on.
Q. Is BOMAWU affiliated to any Federation of Unions?
The Union is not affiliated with any Unions for now.
It is an independent Union, but it gets assistance from sister Unions especially the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Union (BOFEPUSO) and other Unions.
Q. There has been an allegation that you are also employed by DISS. What was that all about?
It is an unfounded allegation by individuals who are out to tarnish my good name and compromise my career.
There is no evidence to the allegation. If there were people out there on a mission, their agenda has failed.
Q. You are a journalist with the Patriot on Sunday, are you not afraid that being President of a Union would cost you your job?
Hahaha, it has never crossed my mind that I could lose my job or my career affected negatively because of that. I am just a messenger and the voice of the members and I am afraid to do my job as a journalist. It’s all about advocacy after all. If I do my work well at the Patriot on Sunday, there is no how I can lose it. I have freedom of association.
Q: Does BOMAWU have any plans to protect whistle-blowers?
Whistle-blowers can only be protected by government.
The Union can only protect sources. But we are expecting whistle-blowers bill to be discussed soon in Parliament, which covers freedom of information bill.
Q. What legacy do you want to leave at BOMAWU?
I want to leave a strong and functional Union; my legacy would be empowered journalists who uphold journalistic ethics.
I would also be happy to see freedom of information act being enacted into law before the end of my term.
Q: You mentioned ethics. Any plans to organize training workshops for members?
The Union is new, but that is part of the plan.
We would want to work closely with other related media organisations with other mandates such as MISA and Editor’s Forum to host refreshers courses especially on various issues of reporting and issues of welfare.
Q. What is the relationship of the Union and employers?
We have a cordial relationship with employers and publishers.
We are still to engage them more and probably differences will arise but media owners are well informed on issues of Unionism and progressive in their thinking so we trust that we will co-exist peacefully and even complement each other.
Thank you for the interview Mr. President and Thank God it’s Friday.
What do you have planned for the weekend?
You are welcome. I look forward to taking a break from deadlines and chilling with my buddies at Rulas hangout spot for a drink or two and good conversation.