Ombudsman slams Btv’s biased news coverage

Nicholas Mokwena
Tuesday, 05 September 2017
Ombudsman slams Btv’s biased news coverage

• BDP enjoys 82% coverage 

• Combined Opposition parties share 18% 

• Broadcaster unduly favours BDP at the expense of other political parties - report

Office of the Ombudsman has found Botswana Television at fault for not affording opposition parties the same news coverage as the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.

This follows a report filed with the Ombudsman by Botswana National Front (BNF) Vice President Dr Prince Dibeela through a letter dated February 15th 2016. According to Ombudsman Augustine Makgonatsotlhe’s report, Dr Dibeela alleged that although it is a public broadcaster and is sustained through the taxes paid by all citizens, whose interest it is supposed to serve, BTV is instead used to serve the interests of the BDP. 

Dr Dibeela argued that BTV rarely airs programmes of opposition parties and regularly bombards the public with BDP propaganda. Makgonatsotlhe stated in the report dated August 28th 2017 that Dr Dibeela was duly qualified, as a member of the public, to lodge a complaint as also his claim that his political party is likely to suffer injustice in consequence of the actions or inactions of the respondent (BTV) is justified and meritorious in accordance with Section 3 (1) of the Ombudsman Act. 

The report shows that BDP enjoys 82 percent of coverage as compared to 18 percent shared by the rest of the opposition parties. According to the report, out of the 89 activities, only 16 from opposition were found to be newsworthy by BTV compared to 73 from the BDP. In his findings, Makgonatsotlhe stated that information gathered demonstrates that, despite the existence of good policy statements and guidelines, BTV has not lived up to those but has unduly favoured the ruling party in their coverage of political events.

“That obviously resulted in injustice to other political parties and those with an interest in Botswana’s political sphere as they were denied the opportunity to compete fairly with the ruling party. It is my view therefore that BTV’s coverage of political party activities does not meet the requirement of balance, equity and inclusiveness as set out under their mandate and guidelines. 

“Such needs to be corrected in order for BTV to play its role properly and effectively,” Makgonatsotlhe stated. He explained that in a democratic set up like that of Botswana, it is therefore imperative that institutions such as a national broadcaster should be established by law or some instruments that will clearly spell out their mandates and governance structure; transparent in the discharge of their mandates and functions and accountable to the nation and Parliament in particular.

Makgonatsotlhe said in his view the allocation of air time slots on BTV is an administrative function of the leadership of that entity. He revealed that he has found that they have in the performance of such, unduly favoured the ruling party over the opposition, thus giving them an undue advantage in obtaining political mileage. He explained that this clearly caused an injustice to the opposition parties.

“BTV should therefore ensure a proper application of the principles stated in their Mandate and Editorial Guidelines to ensure that their reporting of political party activities is balanced, inclusive and equitable both in terms of the content and of the number of events covered”, he recommended. 

He pointed out that only then would they be able to effectively and fairly inform the citizenry of the policies and programmes of the various political role players and to build the nation as per their mandate. This being an issue of national interest and being continuous in  its nature, it can only be appropriate that these remedial measures must be put in place immediately, said Makgonatsotlhe.

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