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State Media election coverage takes shape

The new administration at the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is warmed up to the idea of fairness in this year’s elections as state media (BTV, RB and Daily News) is expected to provide equal coverage to political parties in the October general elections.

This comes as the government moves to implement the recommendations by Ombudsman, Augustine Makgonatsotlhe after condemned unfair and profitable coverage by state media with its positive coverage slanting towards the BDP. In addition, the government through the Office of President (OP) wants to practice the new broadcasting law which seeks to level the political playing field. The Botswana Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) in 2017 tightened broadcasting laws and will for the first time regulate state media coverage of election campaigns in a move that is expected to give the opposition a fair fighting chance.

These, observers believe it could work against the BDP which has always used the media as “propaganda machinery” during elections season. The new development has been endorsed by President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who according to insiders have made it clear that he will like to debate with his counterparts; Duma Boko and Ndaba Gaolathe of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Alliance for Progressives (AP) respectively with electorates watching and or listening.

Masisi has also embraced the need to give all the political players fair airplay in state media. The new broadcasting law was effected consequent to a study by Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) which revealed that a vast space of the broadcasting sector remains unregulated. “The most influential radio media, RB1 and RB2 and BTV are unregulated by BOCRA. Being thus unregulated implies a lack of capacity by BOCRA to exert regulatory discipline on the most influential media, possibly leading to lack of uniformity of standards,” BIDPA research read.

It is said already OP has summoned Mass media leadership for a meeting to discuss how the elections will be covered, with the latest gathering held last month. “But then they (Mass media officials) were told to submit a detailed plan because there are changes on how government wants the elections to be covered. Not only elections in October, but rather the buildup including the debates for candidates in all the 57 constituencies,” said a source close to the developments.

The meetings were called by the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Carter Morupisi to remind the broadcaster of the new changes, says a source. PSP however denies meeting them, “I haven’t met with them about those,” Morupisi said shortly this week when asked about the developments. Going to the last meeting in February, it is said, the broadcasters had already drew a budget as to how much it will cost to cover the elections.

“But the senior government officials objected that saying there is no how they can have a budget without a detailed plan because it is the proposal that informs the budget. So they have been told to bring the plan, thereafter budget will be agreed,” an informant who preferred anonymity said. “The coverage plan has guidelines already as they are told there should not be any bias in the buildup to the elections especially debates and even during the elections period. This was informed by a new regulation from BOCRA and pressure from other stakeholders including Ombudsman,” added the informant this week.

The new Act which seeks to ensure a free and fair election states that, “the Authority shall, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, develop a code of conduct for broadcasting during an election period.” The amended Act and guidelines also aim to restrict political parties from advertising news feeds during elections; restrict the use of foreign news feeds as well as the involvement of foreign governments in election campaigns. The Act states that licensed broadcaster shall not be obliged to broadcast a party-political notice.  A licensee shall not broadcast a party-political notice exceeding three minutes for every 60 minutes of a programme.

“A licensee shall broadcast a party-political notice outside an election period.  A licensee shall not broadcast any political notice immediately before or after item or current affairs programme. A party political notice shall not include any political-party manifesto content, party slogan or campaign message,” the Act states.

In his report to the accusations directed to Btv biasness, Makgonatsotlhe stated that indeed Btv has been giving the ruling party an undue advantage by their unbalanced coverage of political party activities and the documents (Btv mandate and editorial guidelines) provided by the respondents (Btv management) clearly supports the claim. He observed that it resulted in injustice to other political parties and those with an interest in Botswana’s political sphere as they were denied the opportunity to compete fairly with the ruling party.

The report followed a complaint filed with the public protector’s office by Botswana National Front (BNF) Vice President Dr Rev Prince Dibeela. Makgonatsotlhe added that Btv’s coverage of political party activities does not meet the requirements of balance, equity and inclusiveness as set out under mandate and guidelines. He says such needs to be corrected in order for Btv to play its role properly and effectively. In terms of percentages, he says 82 percent coverage is for the BDP while 18 percent is for the combined opposition.

Despite all the recommendations, by far, BDP is still getting a better coverage on state media in the buildup to the elections. However this could now be water under bridge if after the implementation of new BOCRA regulations. In the last elections in 2014, BDP decided not to take part in the Gabz FM organized debates a move that was criticized by political observers saying it was opportunity for the party to clear some policies.

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ENVIRONMENT ISSUES: Masisi asks Virginia for help

24th March 2023

President Mokgweetsi Masisi says the issue of sustainable natural resources management has always been an important part of Botswana’s national development agenda.

Masisi was speaking this week on the occasion of a public lecture at Virginia Polytechnic, under theme, “Merging Conservation, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Botswana.”

Botswana, according to Masisi, holds the view that the environment is fragile and as such, must be managed and given the utmost protection to enable the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“It is necessary that we engage one another in the interchange of ideas, perspectives, visualizations of social futures, and considerations of possible strategies and courses of action for sustainable development,” said Masisi.

On the other hand, dialogue, in the form of rigorous democratic discourse among stakeholders presents another basis for reconfiguring how people act on their environments, with a view to conserving its resources that “we require to meet our socio-economic development needs on a sustainable basis,” Masisi told attendees at the public lecture.

He said government has a keen interest in understanding the epidemiology and ecology of diseases of both domestic and wild animals. “It is our national interest to forestall the dire consequences of animal diseases on our communities livelihoods.”

President Masisi hoped that both Botswana and Virginia could help each other in curbing contagious diseases of wildlife.

“We believe that Virginia Tech can reasonably share their experiences, research insights and advances in veterinary sciences and medicines, to help us build capacity for knowledge creation and improve efforts of managing and containing contagious diseases of wildlife. The ground is fertile for entering into such a mutually beneficial partnership.”

When explaining environmental issues further, Masisi said efforts of conservation and sustainable development might at times be hampered by the emergence and recurrence of diseases when pathogens mutate and take host of more than one species.

“Water pollution also kills aquatic life, such as fish, which is one of humanity’s much deserved sources of food. In this regard, One Health Approach imposes ecological responsibility upon all of us to care for the environment and the bio-diversity therein.”

He said the production and use of animal vaccines is an important space and tool for conservation, particularly to deal with trans-border animal diseases.

“In Botswana, our 43-year-old national premier pharmaceutical institution called Botswana Vaccine Institute has played its role well. Through its successful production of highly efficacious Foot and Mouth vaccines, the country is able to contain this disease as well as supply vaccines to other countries in the sub-region.:

He has however declared that there is need for more help, saying “We need more capacitation to deal with and contain other types of microbial that affect both animals and human health.”

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Masisi saddened by deaths of elephant attacks

24th March 2023

President Mokgweetsi Masisi has expressed a strong worry over elephants killing people in Botswana. When speaking in Virginia this week, Masisi said it is unfortunate that Batswana have paid a price with their own blood through being attacked by elephants.

“Communities also suffer unimaginable economic losses yearly when their crops are eaten by the elephants. In spite of such incidents of human-elephant conflict, our people embrace living together with the animals. They fully understand wildlife conservation and its economic benefits in tourism.”

In 2018, Nthobogang Samokwase’s father was attacked by an elephant when travelling from the fields, where he stayed during the cropping season.

It was reported that the man couldn’t run because of his age. He was found trampled by the elephant and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

In the same year, in Maun, a 57-year-old British woman was attacked by an elephant at Boro and died upon arrival at the hospital. The woman was with her Motswana partner, and were walking dogs in the evening.

Last month, a Durban woman named Carly Marshall survived an elephant attack while on holiday in the bush in Botswana. She was stabbed by one of the elephant’s tucks through the chest and was left with bruises. Marshall also suffered several fractured ribs from the ordeal.

President Masisi Botswana has the largest population of African elephants in the world, totaling more than 130 000. “This has been possible due to progressive conservation policies, partnerships with the communities, and investment in wildlife management programmes.”

In order to benefit further from wildlife, Masisi indicated that government has re-introduced controlled hunting in 2019 after a four-year pause. “The re-introduction of hunting was done in an open, transparent and democratic way, giving the communities an opportunity to air their views. The funds from the sale of hunting quota goes towards community development and elephant conservation.”

He stressed that for conservation to succeed, the local people must be involved and derive benefits from the natural resources within their localities.

“There must be open and transparent consultations which involve all sectors of the society. It is against this backdrop that as a country, we lead the continent on merging conservation, democracy and sustainable development.”

Masisi stated that Botswana is open to collaborative opportunities, “particularly with identifiable partners such as Virginia Tech, in other essential areas such as conservation, and the study of the interplay among the ecology of diseases of wild animals and plants, and their effects on human health and socio-economic development.”

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Gov’t commit to injecting more funds in fighting HIV

24th March 2023

Minister for State President Kabo Morwaeng says government will continue to make resources available in terms of financial allocations and human capital to ensure that Botswana achieves the ideal of eradicating HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

Morwaeng was speaking this morning in Gaborone at the High-Level Advocacy event to accelerate HIV Prevention in Botswana. He said the National AIDS and Health Promotion Agency (NAPHA), in partnership with UNAIDS, UN agencies, the Global Fund and PEPFAR, have started a process of developing transition readiness plan for sustainability of HIV prevention and treatment programmes.

“It is important for us, as a country that has had a fair share of donor support in the response to an epidemic such as HIV and AIDS, to look beyond the period when the level of assistance would have reduced, or ceased, thus calling for domestic financing for all areas which were on donor support.”

Morwaeng said this is important as the such a plan will guarantee that all the gains accrued from the response with donor support will be sustained until the end when “we reach the elimination of HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 20230,” he said.

“I commit to continue support efforts towards strengthened HIV prevention, accentuating HIV primary prevention and treatment as prevention towards Zero New Infections, Zero Stigma, Discrimination and Zero AIDS related death, to end AIDS in Botswana.”

He reiterated that government commits to tackle legislative, policy and programming challenges that act as barriers to the achievement of the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat.

In the financial year 2022/2023, a total of 119 Civil Society Organizations, including Faith Based Organizations, were contracted with an amount of P100 million to implement HIV and NCDs prevention activities throughout the country, and the money was drawn from the Consolidated Fund.

Through an upcoming HIV Prevention Symposium, technical stakeholders will use outcomes to develop the Botswana HIV Prevention Acceleration Road Map for 2023-2025.

Morwaeng stated that government will support and ensure that Botswana plays its part achieving the road map. He said there is need to put hands on the deck to ensure that Botswana sustains progress made so far in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

“There are tremendous achievements thus far to, reach and surpass the UNAIDS fast track targets of 95%- 95%- 95% by the year 2025. As reflected by the BAIS preliminary results of 2021, we now stand at 95- 98- 98 against the set targets.”

“These achievements challenge us to now shift our gears and strive to know who are the remaining 5% for those aware of their HIV status, 2% of enrolment on treatment by those aware of their status and 2% of viral suppression by those on treatment.”

Explaining this further, Morwaeng said shift in gears should extend to coming up with robust strategies of determining where these remaining people are as well as how they will be reached with the necessary services.

“These are just some of the many variables that are required to ensure that as a country, we are well positioned to reaching the last mile of our country’s response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.”

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