Botswana scribes operate under draconian laws – Expert

Nicholas Mokwena
Monday, 05 February 2018
Jornalists at work Jornalists at work

Richard Rooney, associate professor and former Head of the Department of Media Studies at the University of Botswana says most journalists are hindered by restrictive laws and the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service to do their job.

Rooney made these findings in his new book titled ‘News in Botswana: themes in contemporary journalism’. Rooney says some journalists fear the DISS, which started operating in 2010 because its mandate in defending state security is unclear. 

He states in the book that people fear 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, reads the book in part.

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. 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.”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 - 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, according to Rooney.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.”

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