The Botswana government has set up a committee to ration public advertising, and it is clear this is an attempt to force private newspapers into submission by denying them government ads, writes Mmegi in an editorial. This does further damage to the country's democratic credentials.

Mmegi writes in an editorial:

In the mature democracies of the world, the citizenry generally has a sense of what the government stands for.

It appears that in Botswana, one has to be a relative of somebody who occupies a senior place in government to gains an inkling of what the governors could be up to. On paper, the government proclaims itself to be a guardian of freedom of expression, the right to life and the rule of law, but there is little evidence of that on the ground. One need not travel too far back in time to find evidence of reckless degradation of the principle of 'the rule of law'. In the last month, the country's newspapers have been engrossed with the John Kalafatis story, which tells about the execution of the man in a hail of bullets by agents of the state, despite the existence of the courts.

This government has savagely brutalised whatever vestige of freedom of expression was left and it is now hell bent on vandalising the little morsel of what remains of it. It would have been begrudgingly acceptable if the intention of the government was to manage government advertising with increased efficiency. Who does not know that the government has failed to demonstrate any capacity to manage information, even after the creation of the Botswana Government Communication Information Services? The newly added responsibility can only suffocate the failing structures that already exist, especially because they are predisposed to failure as they do not even have the expertise to handle such an undertaking. There can only be one reason why government is overburdening this failed structure. The aim is simply to try and beat the private press into submission by denying it advertising. They started this a long time ago by giving advertising to the state owned Daily News, even when the government propaganda sheet was not ready for such an undertaking.

Now all the pretence has gone, exposing the crude dictatorial pursuits of the current regime. They have now set up a team to ration advertising. We have not been told why government had to engage in this laughable exercise.We want to implore the permanent secretary to the President to climb down on this directive which is unnecessary, only serving to soil the democratic credentials of Botswana. The permanent secretary is not a politician like his principals, but we believe that his bosses will advise him against the dangers of embarking on such an action. Just because the private press occasionally criticises government officials, it does not make us enemies who must be deprived of advertisement which in any case, raised form citizen taxes. The private press plays an indispensable role in providing the citizens – the very taxpayers who sponsors government advertising – with alternative information from the one-sided news that government provides. The private press has a right to government advertising, just as the voters are entitled to all the information they can get, even if it does not emanate from government offices.

* This editorial appeared in Mmegi on 26 June 2009.