Slowly and gradually, the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) is making inroads into the local media as it steps up its campaign to regain public confidence. As for the media, it is polarised. To the utmost glee of the DISS, it speaks at cross-purposes.
In fact, it has taken to social media platforms to engage on a vitriolic public spat against itself. This confrontation is a welcome distraction for DIS and its boss, Isaac Kgosi, who has been pulverised and crucified in the media for alleged corruption and terror management of national security. It all started with the infamous media tour of DIS camps, some of which are deemed to be torture facilities.
The tour, which was facilitated by the DISS and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), ‘cherry-picked’ journalists from different media houses for the assignment. How the media houses that went on the tour were identified is not known.
However a newspaper report quoted MISA chairperson Modise Maphanyane waxing lyrical about the DISS boss and explaining further that the media tour would be conducted in ‘batches.’ Not only did the MISA chair repudiate various newspaper claims against the DISS, he also, not in so many words, condemned the editors’ collective for collapsing a ‘noble’ means initiated by the DISS boss to build bridges with the press.
The effect of this media gaffe, he implied, was to throw away a golden opportunity for the press and the secret security organ to bond. Now, these developments unwittingly infringe on press freedoms and expose the cracks in the foundation on which our local media is premised. From its very conception, MISA was intended to protect the interests of the publishers. Sadly, in the excitement that followed, practicing journalists abandoned their professional associations in the hope that in MISA their interests would be well served. Here at home the advent of MISA dealt Botswana Journalists Association (BOJA) a deathblow, as reporters found themselves having to choose between their employers and an association that presumed to represent their working conditions and professional conduct- in essence- their interests.
The battle was hard fought. In time, MISA also suffered a split when some of its activists, notably the current Government Spokesperson, Dr. Jeff Ramsay, then a principal at Legae Academy, founded a splinter organisation- the Botswana Media Consultative Council (BMCC). Before these two, BOJA had been the sole voice of the media- print and electronic-and enjoyed patronage and membership from both government and private journalists. Consequently, the media’s public watchdog role was enforced. But with the emergence of the latter bodies, the State manoeuvred and devised strategies to divide and regulate the press.
This brief historical digression is significant to inform current trends. The current developments derive from the degenerate state that the media has over a long period of time descended into, as a result of its lack of unity. That is why to this day journalists still do not belong to an association that speaks to their needs and interests. Instead their interests are protected by proxy.
Under normal circumstances, a journalist would attract various forms of sanctions if he offended the Code of Conduct prescribed by the Association or its international partners such as the International Federation of Journalists or the International Organisation of Journalists. But lo and behold, in today’s practice, it is a free for all.
The atmosphere has been poisoned by spies and agent provocateurs that have infiltrated the newsrooms masquerading as journalists to do bidding for their political masters. It becomes even more complicated when the country’s top spy agency joins the fray. Now, here is a classical clash between defenders of freedom of speech (media) and their antithesis, guardians of state secrets (DISS), who carry their operations under the aegis of national security. Worse still, the press (Media) has no clear cut legislation to protect its practice except for a clause in the constitution, which is open to broad interpretation.
Under these stifling conditions, exacerbated by a virtual absence of oversight regulatary frame work for the DISS, it’s a foregone conclusion that DISS will ride roughshod over the media.
And when economic interests are factored in (government intends to starve private media houses of advertising), it becomes patently obvious, especially under the obtaining structure of media ownership, that the profit motif must prevail above all other considerations.
And thus, in the cutthroat environment, practising journalists are wont to become collateral damage in the battle for the maintenance of the status quo. Yet, for better or worse, the DISS has to be brought under ‘civilian order’ and the power elites and all their power structures must be made to account. It behooves the press to endeavour at all costs to maintain public order and guard the nation’s constitution jealously. And this, it must do without fear or favour.