The ruling against Botswana's state television and radio services over their unfair broadcast of a party political address by Ian Khama sends a clear signal that it it no longer acceptable for the ruling party to treat them as their private propaganda arm, writes Mmegi in an editorial.
When President Ian Khama went on national radio and TV a month ago to castigate suspended Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general, Gomolemo Motswaledi, everyone was taken aback as to how such a purely partisan political message could be carried on state media.
Both Btv and Radio Botswana have been criticised for giving the BDP unfair advantage by never failing to exploit any opportunity to give the party coverage irrespective of the issue at hand. The opposition has been rightly up in arms over the development. We know that there are some members of the opposition who even went to the extent of complaining to the Ombudsman and the South African Development Community (SADC).
Bias towards the BDP has always been an obvious orientation of the state media in Botswana. Whenever this is pointed out, both BDP and the government public relations machine have been quick to go on the defensive saying that there is nothing wrong with the obvious bias.
However, when the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) took their grievances to the National Broadcasting Board (NBB) it seems they had found the right body to objectively address the partiality of state media to BDP. And we dare say, the NBB has not disappointed in upholding the public good and promoting democracy on this matter.
The NBB's findings that Btv and Radio Botswana were guilty of improper conduct for allowing Khama to ventilate BDP internal issues on state media comes at the right time.
Btv and Radio Botswana must therefore change after this verdict. This not just a decision from some opposition party to be dismissed as Btv, Radio Botswana and BDP have been doing. It is a decision from a government appointed media body. This is an election year and as such, the silly season is upon us. That is why the NBB's decision is very important. Everyone knows that the BDP has abused state media to its advantage, but at least for now, anyone wishing to engage in such behaviour faces the prospect of serious sanction. We now look to the NBB to act swiftly to correct this problem. Btv and Radio Botswana need to be taken to task for their willful transgressions. However, more importantly, we hope Btv and Radio Botswana will give other political parties the same amount of airtime to address their members before the elections. It is only fair that all other party presidents get a fair chance to speak to the voters on state radio the way Khama did.
Today's Thought: "When the state is behind mass media, this rarely produces a decent information product." – Konstantin Isakov
* This editorial first appeared in Mmegi on 22 Septmber 2009.