Botswana Editors Forum (BEF) has welcomed as a positive development a decision by prosecution to drop charges of sedition against Editor of Sunday Standard Outsa Mokone.
Early this week when the case came for argument before Broadhurst Magistrate Court, the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) revealed that it is no longer continuing with the case. DPP , represented by Wessen Manchwe, withdrew its opposition to the application that the case be dismissed. Mokone appeared in court to face a charge of sedition arising from an article published by Sunday Standard in September 2014.
Mokone is represented by Carlos Salbany of Bayford and Associates. Mokone faces the single count of sedition jointly with Tsodilo Services (Pty) Ltd the parent company of the Sunday Standard, arising from an article published on September 1st, 2014, titled “President hit in car Accident while driving alone at night.” The article revealed how former president Khama had been involved in a motor vehicle accident on the night of August 23rd, 2014.
In an interview with this publication this week, BEF Chairman Spencer Mogapi said they are naturally happy and welcome that the case has been dropped. He however stated that the case could have long been dropped or not been registered in the first place. He explained that the BEF recently met with President Mokgweetsi Masisi and expressed dissatisfaction about some of the laws sedition included which they believe infringes on the right of journalists to freely perform their work.
According to Mogapi, they remain hopeful that the current administration will work with the media, to address some of the key issues that affect the media including some of the laws they feel have been overtaken by events. “There are many of the laws among them Sedition, Media Practioners’ Act and National Security Law which make it difficult for journalists to do their work.
We would continue to engage the president and his government but we will give them chance to govern the country and we would continue to be available to assist where we best can,” he said. Mogapi explained that they are worried that the Media Practitioners' Law even though it has not been into use, maybe one day or in years to come, fall into wrong hands and those people would use it against the media.
BEF and other media rights groups have been calling for the repeal of the Media Practitioners' Act. Mogapi also warned journalist not to trust political parties saying they support the media when it best suits them. “Once you have a story that is negative about them they start attacking you. Of recent we had a senior opposition politician indicating that the Media Practitioners Act has to be put into use to punish some of the journalists.
This is just because some of the reports have not been favourable to them but in the past we know the opposition to have been sympathetic to the media and advocating for free press. Right now we see that they are in their comfort zone. So journalists should be mindful of these politicians across the political divide,” said Mogapi who also cautioned journalists to always support each other in trying times because no one knows when their time will come.
According to Journalists Without Borders 2018 Report on Media Freedom, Botswana’s international rankings have steadily declined under former president Ian Khama. In 2013, the first year Botswana was ranked, Botswana came in at 40th out of 180 countries.
Due to Khama’s persistent attacks on the media, calling it unpatriotic, alleging that the “media and its opposition lawyers” sought to undermine the constitution, the Report found, coupled with raids and arrests of media practitioners and media houses by state security agencies for exposing corruption, that Botswana’s media freedom ratings progressively dropped to 48th by 2017.