Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse came down hard on government like a tonne of bricks on Monday when 20 MPs voted against his Media Practitioners (Repeal) Bill of 2018. Only 14 MPs supported the repeal Bill. Government has for a long time refused to repeal the Act indicating that it is working on making some amendments to the Act.
Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Nonofo Molefhi told Parliament that the process they started in 2015 for the amendment to the existing law was to improve it to take into consideration some of the views from their engagement with private practitioners where they can create a self-regulatory arrangement. The minister stated that at the end they will be able to create an apex organisation that would be the Media Ombudsman.
Responding to debates, Keorapetse stated that the challenge is “the moment you say that you are legislating on regulation that by itself is at odds with self-regulation”. He said it does not matter that government currently has some journalists “in your pockets”or that some adverts are skewed towards certain papers as opposed to others - statutory regulation is an anathema of self-regulation. Neither does it matter, he said that government is “enticing some journalists with all sorts of things”, as long as statutory regulation exists, the media can never be said to be free. He said that publishers, media practitioners and the Law Society made it clear that they subscribe to a principle of self-regulation and do not want any state involvement in their work because they have mechanisms in place.
“They may be inadequate and need to be improved, but the thing is that legislation now is at odds with the principle of self-regulation, that is why they are saying, there is a need to repeal this law. “That is why they say in the first place, there was no need to have this law in place. So, even if you try and panel beat it, it does not take away the argument that they subscribed to self-regulation,” he said.But Molefhi responded that it is not a total overhaul, but a significant portion that has to be amended to incorporate the concerns which were previously raised by the private practitioners.
“During the period of 2014/2015 when we undertook consultations, the private practitioners were heavily involved in the re-orientation of what was going to become the Media Council Bill. That is the discussion that we want to conclude, and ultimately go through to Cabinet,” Molefhi said.
Keorapetse argued that self-regulation means that the reason why the media is called the Fourth Estate is that the presupposition is that there are three independent arms of Government being; Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary, and the fourth estate is the Media. Now, this media is not supposed to be subservient to any institution, it must be independent and be self-regulatory, he said.
“Why not leave them to self-regulate? Already there is a Press Council, Editors Forum, and Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Botswana, why do you need the state now to start regulating the media? “The media is called the fourth estate primarily because it must be independent. Not just independent in terms of independence, but it must also be seen to be independent.” Keorapetse said it is their responsibility as Parliament to guarantee the freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions without being encumbered, and to also explicitly legislate on freedom of the media. “That will be enough, we do not have to come up with any law to attempt to regulate the media,” he posited.