Khama and the Media: From enemy to saviour

Thabo Masokola
Tuesday, 05 March 2019
Khama and the Media: From enemy to saviour

When days are dark, friends are few. And for former President, Ian Khama, the days are dark, perhaps very dark. Khama’s recent Saul-to-Paul transition on the media has left even Paul himself utterly shocked. It is a U-turn like no other. In the ‘good old days,’ Khama had the luxury of choice when it came to media coverage. So spoilt for choice, he had even made it a habit to throw punches at private media at every opportune moment.

For Khama, the private media was an embodiment of evil. It was a cancer that needed the strongest possible chemo to be destroyed. Besides the carelessly selected adjectives and expletives he used to describe the local media, he had the pleasure to marvel at their arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, harassments and sometimes, explicit threats to kill. As if that was not enough, he emptied their pockets by banning all government and government-funded entities to advertise from them. We all watched helplessly as the looting and the shooting continued unabated.

Then, the private media mattered not; after all, he had the entire Mass-Media Complex at his disposal. The state media was all about him, may it be radio, print or television. The only time they stopped covering him, was when he was sleeping. But the moment he woke up, the propaganda reel would run ceaselessly until he again retired to bed. He also had a profound taste for western media, of which as and when it served their strategic interests, they would apportion him a space for his vitriol against Robert Mugabe.

But that was then, now it is gone. The state media is gone, and so is his beloved British media. But the reel is still running, though for someone else. Like an oasis, now Khama stands alone in a sea of the Kgalagadi sand. Power has deserted him and so are the privileges and accruements that accompany it. The political monsoons of the Kgalagadi are battering him to withering proportions. But, just when he was about to resign his last breath to the political wolves of the desert, the local media threw him a lifeline. The very media he publicly castigated as ‘unpatriotic’ have come to save him from political oblivion.

Instead of being harsh and vengeful, the local media has given Khama refuge. And by the look of things, it looks like his last place of refuge. Unlike him, they have given him a platform to rant and vent his usual trivialities out. He may not have audience, but at least he has a voice. We may disagree with his altered and warped outlook of life, but at least he has a platform to throw his childish tantrums. And that should serve as a lesson to him. That is, in a normal functioning democracy, people must have an opportunity to air their views, regardless of the shape and form they come in.

And freedom of speech and expression is not, as some people may claim, a western concept, for Batswana, it is a normative ethic (Setho). Khama should know that the media is also an important accountability mechanism. The relationship between media and politician would continue to be a love/hate relationship. But both need each other, the one to provide the information, the other to communicate it. Politicians like to present their successes and their opinions, to use the media to gain public recognition and enlarge their authority; the media’s role is to question these critically. The way I see it, Khama owes the media an apology. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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