BOTSWANA'S National Broadcasting Board (NBB) has ordered Btv and Radio Botswana to avail free airtime to opposition parties to address the nation on any topic, writes Ephraim Keoreng in Mmegi.

The order comes after NBB found the government Department of Broadcasting Services (DBS) guilty of contravening the code governing broadcasters by giving President Ian Khama time to address the nation on the factional fights within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The statement was read by DBS director, Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo. It sought to explain Khama's decision to suspend BDP secretary general Gomolemo Motswaledi.

The state media was found guilty of giving the BDP unfair opportunity to campaign without offering the same to the opposition. The ruling comes after the opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) took the state media to the NBB after Khama's address. Though the ruling faults the DBS for contravening the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters During Elections, BCP spokesperson Dumelang Saleshando is not happy because Btv and Radio Botswana have not been reprimanded.

Saleshando said that they expected the NBB to punish the state broadcasters by taking away their operating licences. "What is worrying about this ruling is that we have been told that the NBB Code of Conduct is part and parcel of licencing for broadcasters and a breach of this code is a breach of the licence conditions and one would expect the NBB to take punitive measures like taking away their licences," he said.

He added that this shows that the NBB is constrained when dealing with state media. He stated that if the culprit was a private broadcaster, strict punitive measures could have been meted out. However, Saleshando said his party is pleased that the state media has been ordered to accord the opposition the same time slots given the BDP to broadcast their political messages. Saleshando said that as it happened in the BDP statement, they expect their statement to be read by Kaboeamodimo or someone more senior."It matters who reads it. We wouldn't want anyone below him to do that," he said.

The Botswana National Front (BNF) spokesperson Moeti Mohwasa said that the NBB should critically assess the way the state broadcasters deal with the ruling party and the opposition.

"It is not fair. This issue of having the state president and vice president being given coverage is being abused because the incumbent party tends to benefit as these two-president and his deputy always have Btv and Radio Botswana broadcasting their meetings be they government or politically related. For these elections to be called free and fair, there should be equal coverage in the media, otherwise if this continues, we will have only free but unfair elections," he said. He said they too have election activities and messages that they want to broadcast on national radio.

The NBB ruling says that Khama's statement came from a political party and was primarily meant to advance the interests of the BDP. The NBB says it has satisfied itself that Radio Botswana and Btv contravened the code which prohibits broadcasting of political party material outside the elections period. In the NBB ruling, Kaboeamodimo said he acted on the instructions of Office of the President (OP) to broadcast the statement in dispute. Saleshando said that Kaboeamodimo's assertion shows that the state media is always ready to break the law to fulfill the president's wish. "It is high time that state media becomes a public media and the board (NBB) is independent," he said.

Click here to read the full report, posted on Mmegi's website.