Reporters Without Borders today warned Botswana’s government against trying to give orders to the country’s public media after a senior official instructed them to refrain from negative reporting about a controversial programme to resettle Bushmen living on a game reserve.
“Such orders are unusual in Botswana,” the press freedom organisation said. “This kind of behaviour is archaic and risky. Even if so far it has been limited to a memo, the government must resist the temptation to try to regiment the media. And we find it hard to understand how a senior official can dismiss the idea that he is attacking press freedom while at the same time telling the public media what to do and insulting the privately-owned press.”
The deputy permanent secretary of the communications, science and technology ministry, Andrew Sesinyi, ordered all public media department chiefs in a memo on 25 September to ensure that any negative reporting about the controversial relocation of Gana and Gwi Bushmen from the Kalahari game reserve was “contrasted strongly with freshly-sought government statements.”
Claiming that it was “a worldwide practice that professional journalists are first and foremost patriots before anything else,” he accused the privately-owned media of “rallying behind the enemy.” His memo should be considered “as both an instruction and guideline,” he said, at the same as he denied that he was violating press freedom.
His memo followed the publication on 21 September of the findings of an investigation by the main opposition party, the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), calling on the government to reopen negotiations with the Bushmen. BCP acting president Kesitegile Gobotswang said the campaign of forced relocation was jeopardising the lifestyle of the Gana and Gwi Bushmen
The BCP investigation concluded that the campaign was having an “immense social, economic and cultural cost” and that its motive “seems to be the erroneous official view that wildlife and human population cannot co-exist.” Bushmen demonstrations in the reserve in September 2005 were violently dispersed by police, drawing international condemnation.
The Botswana media landscape is dominated by the public media, especially Botswana TV and Radio Botswana. The privately-owned media - consisting of two radio stations, a dozen or so weeklies and monthlies, and a daily that only reaches urban areas - have little national impact. When Botswana TV was launched in August 2000, presidential affairs and public administration minister Tebelelo Seretse promised it would not be just a government mouthpiece.