August 14, 2008

Botswana NGO Backs Proposed Media Practitioners Bill

Text of report by Botswana newspaper Mmegi website on 12 August

[Unattributed report: "Media Bill Inadequate -Ditshwanelo"]

In recognition of the critical role played by the media in the process of enhancing development Ditshwanelo -The Botswana Centre for Human Rights wishes to comment on the Media Practitioners Bill.

The Media Practitioners Bill Number 15 was gazetted on 27 June 2008. The Bill seeks to govern the operations and general conduct of the media through the proposed establishment of a Press Council. In addition, the Press Council will also ensure the "maintenance of high professional standards" within the media sector and provide for the registration and accreditation of media practitioners resident in Botswana. According to media reports, there are concerns that the government has not adequately taken into account the views raised by stakeholders during the consultation process. Some of the other widely expressed concerns include the fact that the media practitioners would like a situation where they are able to regulate themselves based on the framework of the bill as opposed to a scenario where the government through the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology is vested with the responsibility of appointing committees.

A further concern is that the guiding principles, which both the government and the media practitioners earlier agreed to as the basis for the bill have not been fully incorporated. Ditshwanelo urges the government of Botswana to incorporate the input of the media in the bill. We encourage further consultation with the government, all media organizations and interested stakeholders in order to work in collaboration with them to provide an environment in which freedom of expression, as enshrined in the constitution of Botswana (section 12 is upheld and respected. We also note that the right to freedom of expression, which is fundamental to the work of the media, is provided for in international human rights instruments such as the international covenant on civil and political rights (Articles 19, 21, 22) and the African charter on human and peoples rights (articles 9,10,11) to both of which Botswana is a party.

We further urge the government to ensure that the committees proposed in the bill are truly impartial and independent of political influence in order to guarantee the credibility of a media regulatory body similar to that obtaining in other professional bodies such as the Botswana Law Society.

Ditshwanelo welcomes the fact that the bill provides for media practitioners registered under the Act to adhere to a Code of Ethics issued by the council. We believe that this development may assist in encouraging an ethical reporting culture. We further welcome the fact that this Code of Ethics covers a wide spectrum of issues, such as the protection of minors and other vulnerable groups as often the media is guilty of violating their rights to protection and privacy. We note, however, that the bill fails to mention the right to information from public organizations or institutions as often journalists are unable to obtain information on the basis that such information is classified when such information is of public interest and should be made known to the public.

Ditshwanelo calls upon the government to consider including this crucial component in the bill as the media is a powerful tool for exposing human rights abuses and holding governments and its citizens accountable. It is therefore important to provide a healthy balance between freedom of expression and responsibility of the media.



Originally published by Mmegi website. Gaborone, in English 12 Aug 08.

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