Botswana publishers have served the Attorney General, Athaliah Molokomme with a notice to take the Minister of Communications Science and Technology Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi to court over the controversial Media Practitioners Act, according to a report in Mmegi.
The notice was served on Wednesday by the publishers' lawyer, Batsho Nthoi. "We have received instructions from Botswana Publishers who intend to challenge the Media Practitioners Act for being unconstitutional and at variance with Botswana's international obligations," states the notice from the publishers.
The publishers argue that by compelling members of the media to join the Media Council, the Act violates their right to freedom of association as encapsulated under Section 13 of the Constitution. They maintain that the mandatory requirement to have media practitioners submit to registration and accreditation violates their freedom of expression and of the media.
"(Registration and accreditation) as a pre-emptory requirement to practice journalism is inhuman and degrading, and contrary to Section Seven of the Constitution to the extent that it prevents anyone to practice journalism without registration and accreditation (and denies) the media practitioner a right of livelihood they previously enjoyed," the publishers say.
They assert that the creation of the new Media Council alongside the Press Council infringes on the Press Council members' right of Freedom of Association as it would weaken and even make the Press Council defunct. They assert that the definition of a media practitioner is too broad and thus constitutionally unacceptable.
Most importantly, the publishers argue that criminalising the wrongs of the media practitioners constitutes censorship. This they say will have a chilling effect on the practitioners thus preventing them from carrying out their work without fear. They argue that since the role of the media is to balance the views of the populace and of government, and to prevent corruption and make government accountable, it is therefore undesirable that a minister is involved in the appointment of members of the complaints and appeals committee as the Act stipulates. "(This) does not serve any of the legitimate aims espoused under Section 12 of the Constitution," the publishers say.
They are seeking to oppose part of the Act which compels the publisher to publish a replying statement which "disregards the possibility that such a reply could be defamatory". The publishers say the Act is against the media and is invalid and geared towards controlling the media. They therefore seek the court to define Sections 12 and 13 of the Constitution in light of Botswana's obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human Rights and other international laws.
They want the definition of media practitioner under the Act to be declared unconstitutional and null and void. The publishers want parts of the Act such as the one restricting freedom of expression and the press, the requirement to register and accredit, and the compulsory membership of the Media Council to be declared unconstitutional and as serving no purpose in a democratic society. The publishers want the Media Act to be declared invalid for being unconstitutional and contrary to Botswana's international obligations. The Media Act which was passed last year has caused consternation among media practitioners.
Click here to read the full report, posted n Mmegi's website.