New book delves into Botswanas journalism
Journalists on privately-owned newspapers in Botswana are doing a pretty good job, but those who work for government-owned media are seen by many people as propagandists.
All journalists in Botswana are hindered in their work by restrictive laws and a government that often refuses to tell people what is going on. These are some of the findings in a new book News in Botswana: themes in contemporary journalism, written by Richard Rooney, associate professor and former Head of the Department of Media Studies at the University of Botswana. It is the most comprehensive book on journalism in Botswana yet published.
Journalism in Botswana is dominated by government-controlled media in both print and broadcasting. Government owns the biggest media houses with the Daily News, Radio Botswana 1 and 2 and Botswana TV. The government also owns the Botswana Press Agency.
Rooney says the government has put considerable resources into the Daily News so it competes unfairly with the independent press. The biggest competitive advantage that the Daily News has is that it does not have normal production overheads, since all these are taken care of from government funds. It also receives hidden government subsidies because it is delivered on government land and air transport as a matter of policy. Unlike private newspapers, the Daily News is delivered free-of-charge to most areas of Botswana and in rural areas it is often the only print media available.
The Daily News competes for advertising and undercuts the rates offered by private media companies. Advertisers prefer the Daily News because they want high circulation to reach the maximum number of people. Private commercial radio stations are also disadvantaged by the government which competes for advertising. Government is the largest employer, business entity and advertiser in Botswana and is not averse to using this to give media it controls commercial advantages and in so doing distort the newspaper market. Rooney says, “Government can and does pull advertising from newspapers it deems to be too critical of its policies and it can coerce companies in the private sector which want to keep in its favour not to advertise.”
News in Botswana: themes in contemporary journalism is available free-of-charge on the Internet at www.academia.edu
In a survey of how media houses support good governance in Botswana, Rooney finds that although freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitution there are 15 laws in Botswana that can restrict the work of journalists. The worst of these is the Media Practitioners Act of 2008 that allows the government to decide who can and cannot work as a journalist. The Act continues to receive great opposition from media freedom advocates and has yet to be put into operation.
The book reveals that people widely recognise that the Daily News and the state-owned broadcasting outlets have mandates to promote government policy and they favour the coverage of the ruling party the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) over opposition parties. This happens all the time but is especially worrisome at election times when people rely on news media for information about the policies of political parties.
Rooney says that members of civil society in Botswana believe, “The government directly interferes in the editorial content of the Daily News, and engages in unbalanced or propagandist reporting.” He gives an example in 2011 when an article about the Botswana Government giving P1 million to Japan following its devastating tsunami in March 2011 was withdrawn from the Daily News by “higher authorities” as it was felt this would not be welcomed during the then on-going public workers’ strike.
Rooney says some journalists fear the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DISS) that became operational in 2010 because its mandate in defending state security is unclear. People fear the DISS spies on ordinary citizens. Private media in Botswana have reported that employees of government media live in fear that the DISS is monitoring their activities.
There is a big market for newspapers in Botswana and they cater for a wide range of readership needs, from the overtly serious to the decidedly non-serious. However, all newspapers have a common problem, Rooney says. Too many articles originate from government or from staged events and the voices of ordinary Botswana are hardly ever heard in news media, whether newspapers, radio or television.
Rooney’s research suggests a main reason for this is that media houses in Botswana are generally under-resourced, and privately-owned newspapers in particular cannot afford to have large staffs or freelancers throughout the country. They therefore rely on contributors who know that journalists need a constant supply of material to meet their deadlines and therefore go about supplying it. Political parties in Botswana are especially aware of these needs.
He reports on a series of workshops known as the African Media Barometer that asked people what they thought about the quality of journalism in Botswana. They said journalists on privately-owned newspapers were doing a reasonable job but they were hindered by scarcity of resources and deliberate attempts by government officials to withhold information. The lack of resources in media houses means that most content is urban-based with rural areas in effect side-lined by the newspapers.
They said experienced professionals left journalism to enter public relations and communications because they were not growing professionally or were not being paid enough. Rooney reports the workshop participants said reporting in private newspapers was generally fair and was not considered to be “gutter journalism” although accuracy, fairness and balance were sometimes found to be lacking. “Generally, Botswana journalists are not corrupt and have a very high standard of moral integrity,” the workshop participants said. News in Botswana: themes in contemporary journalism, by Richard Rooney. Available to download free-of-charge from www.academia.edu
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Lesbian women speak out
In 2021, the Court of Appeal ruled against criminalization of same-sex relationships in Botswana. The courtâs decision to uphold this ruling was based on arguments that criminalizing homosexuality was unconstitutional.
The bench of five judges unanimously ruled that this was a violation of rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals to dignity, liberty, privacy and equality. However, it has emerged that ending violence against homosexuals, in particular, lesbian women, is far from over.
Lesbian women in Botswana are still subjected to all forms of abuse, violence and discrimination. They are sexually molested, raped, emotionally abused, harassed and constantly reminded that they are still âwomenâ even if they can act like men.
These women endure violence from those that are close to them, be it family, schoolmates, workmates and the general public even. This was revealed this week in Gaborone at the commemoration of an International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBT) 2023.
The commemoration was held under the theme âTogether always: united in diversity,â and it was organized by Success Capital in collaboration with European Union, SADC and UNAIDS. IDAHOBT 2023 was organized to show solidarity and join forces in the journey towards a meaningful, equitable, healthy and gender-just-Botswana.
Agreeing to speak to this publication on anonymity, a 20-year-old lesbian woman from Thamaga said she is a member of the LGBTIQ+ community and still in closet (her sexual orientation is unknown), but has suffered violence nonetheless.
âHomosexuals in Botswana are discriminated of their identity. We also face rejection daily in which we are excluded from interacting with other people. Their parents still think our identity is contagious and that it can be used to manipulate their children. This is something that I endured growing up.â
When quizzed on how her parents will react should she go public about her gender identity, the source said as for the mother, she would react positively. She has since opened up to her sister about her sexual orientation.
âMy mother is a nice person generally. She wonât react in a way that will disappoint me but she will have to accept how I am because, technically, there is nothing she can do about it.â
Another lesbian woman, who identifies as Teddy, said she grew up in a setting full of male persons, something that led to her adopting male tendencies. She would dress like a boy, something that she felt comfortable doing.
âMy mother has always known about this issue. My relatives gave me a hard time though. I realized that I am lesbian from a young age even though I didnât understand why I was like that. I will jokingly dismiss a boy who would want to date me, referring to them as a brother.â
Teddy underlined that the community she grew up in did not tolerate her sexual orientation. âThey will call me setabane and this is something that has lived in us. At church, I was forced to wear dresses or skirts, but I couldnât.â
A lesbian woman who preferred being anonymous said at some point being a lesbian affected her mental health, as she couldnât handle the pressure that came with it. She has since opened up to her parents about her sexual identity.
Meanwhile, when quizzed to speak on LGBTIQ+ rights in Botswana, High Commissioner and UK Special Representative to SADC Sian Price said there is a lot to be hopeful and positive about, adding that Botswana has an advantage of an active society that has respect for human rights.
âThere are active support groups and respect of the rule of law, which made it possible for the country to be where it is now. This should make it possible for Botswana to go further. So, I am optimistic but I also think that there is need for all to have a greater ambition because there is so much more that could be done to promote LGBTIQ+ rights on Botswana. We also need to work together and advance those ends.â
In a statement, European Union (EU) says it is unacceptable that human rights continue to be violated and abused on the basis of perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity.
The EU has called on all 67 state jurisdictions worldwide that still criminalize homosexuality, 11 of which impose the death penalty for consensual same-sex relationships, to immediately end this âdiscriminatory practice.â
âWe are committed to working with all our partners to counter laws, policies and practices that discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity and tom eliminate all forms of violence.â
Author explains two award winning books
Just two weeks ago, the inaugural Botswana Literature Awards put on the spotlight the countryâs top authors, celebrating and recognizing the contribution and hard work these book worms put on paper. These are individuals dedicated to improve literature landscape in Botswana.
Amongst the winners was Cole Motlogelwa, a Motswapong tribesman from Ratholo, who has published two award winning books: The English Man is Gone and The Cabal, which were published in 2019 and 2021 respectively.
Motlogelwa is a product of his environment. The toils, curiosities, trials and tribulations, accomplishments and hopes of his people are his source of inspiration to write. He says he uses writing to interpret and attempt to express all of these experiences he consumes from his surroundings. Writing for him is a tool for change, a voice that cracks the hollowness and mystery of the night.
When speaking in an interview this week, Motlogelwa said his first literature award was the AfriCAN Author award in 2020, where he was honored for his first book.
âThe second one was an award I got from the Inaugural Botswana Literature Awards 2022/23. The Cabal was judged to be the Best English Novel in Botswana at the said awards.â
He stressed that a great writer is not so much an excellent command of the language of the book, but about whether one is willing to cut the piece of them and share it with the readers.
âSimply put, characters are just fictitious and devoid of form, until we breath life into them by projecting our emotions into them. We give them emotions that we understand. We give them scare we have. We clothe them with smiles we know we have. We canât give them what we donât possess. So, a good writer I sone who is willing and able to effectively express themselves through their characters.â
When shedding more light on his two award winning books, Motlogelwa said The Cabal (2021) is 221 pages futuristic political thrilling satire set in Botswana.
It follows a journey of Detective Moathodi on his quest to find the killer of the Permanent Secretary to the President of Botswana in the year 2029. His investigations were not warmly welcomed by the Gaborone North police department and the Apex Intelligence Unit.
His investigations together with the Vice President, Advocate Tholo, will lead to a dangerous web of deceit that exposes the unimaginable games, tricks and schemes in every political circle that continues to keep the innocent citizens in the dark about the monopoly that takes place behind closed doors at their expense.
âIn this book, I went deep into the history of Botswana and I open the mind of the reader to the surrounding possibilities, as well as educate both readers with legal background and those who donât with rich history that perhaps have many uncertain loopholes.â
The book also shows the length at which politicians would go to achieve political ambitions and the network of holy and unholy players in the game.
In summary, The Cabal is a magnetic and captivating story of political ideologies, games, endless and ugly gap between the haveâs and the have notâs kidnapping and passion for change.
The English Man is Gone (2019) is a radical expose on the after-effect of colonization of Botswana. The book describes the authorâs post colonization âutopiaâ and delves deep into âour continued attachment to the western powerhouses. It screams change, and is solution-based wake-up call to the people of Botswana.
This is a book that was written for the youth and future of Botswana in mind by the author. Its six chapters provide in-depth opinion and understanding of the author on critical issues of colonialism, existing government practices from time immemorial couched in sophisticated language, the Constitution of Botswana, discriminatory practices amongst the people of Botswana, foreign policy and the economy of the country.
However, though he is a multi-award-winning author, he has a fair share of challenges. As authors in Botswana, Motlogelwa stressed that they lack accessible and sustainable literature development initiatives, saying âand books are still subject to imposition of tax. This is quite concerning because we are trying to build a knowledge-based economy.
âThere is no domestic literature market protection, and local authors are forced to compete against influx of foreign materials. Even in pursuit of market liberalization, sight should not be lost that we need protection because our literature market is infant. We need community libraries that can buy and deal with our books.â
âOtherwise, publishing is an expensive process and many of us have financial challenges, so that goes without saying.â
Local music earns a spot on Mzansiâs Channel O
In its quest to empower the local creative industry, MultiChoice Botswana is once again cooking something for local music producers and artists. For so many years now, creative minds in Botswana have been struggling to promote their talent as there are no platforms to help in that context.
Without doubt, Botswana has many talented entertainment industry players. They are artists, music producers, actors, storytellers and fashion industry players. With more emphasis on the music industry, there are no significant platforms to come to their rescue.
The available platforms are not enough to export talent. In worst scenarios, the platforms do not offer monetary incentives, so they become less beneficial to artists. On lucky days, artists are engaged and paid monies to at least keep them alive for a minute.
In discovering these dares, MultiChoice Botswana says it has come to artistâs rescue, providing a brand-new music video countdown show featuring homegrown Botswana music videos.
When shedding more light on the new offering, MultiChoice Botswana Corporate Affairs Manager, Thembile Legwaila said the call-for-submission, launched this week, will run for a duration of ten weeks, with qualifying videos being part of Channel Oâs newest music show, aptly titled Bots Top 5.
âWith this being a fresh new music video countdown show celebrating local artists and their works, we want to ensure that the music videos airing on the show are fully representative of the talent available in Botswana. We have made the submission process as simple and as transparent as possible with the hopes that this will also unearth the undiscovered musical gems we have in our country,â she said.
With Channel O being available across all MultiChoice Africa markets, Legwaila said African exposure to local talent is a given with the new music video countdown show launching on 24th May 2023.
âEach week, the locally produced music video entertainment show will see its host introducing viewers to five of Botswanaâs hottest music videos. The show will also feature interviews with artists behind the videos, everyday Batswana sharing their thoughts on the local creative industry and many different small business and landmarks of Botswana to intrigue and entice viewers.â
When expanding more on the show, Legwaila said Bots Top 5 is an incredibly exciting addition of content to the already booming content on DStv. MultiChoice Botswana Managing Director, Stephanie Pillay, said âMore specifically because it speaks to our local content strategy and our screens. We are looking forward to the rest of Africa knowing what we already know, and that is that Botswanaâs local creative industry may be still growing but it is definitely full of endless potential.â
When queried to share his option on this development, the countryâs most celebrated artist, Han C, said this is a great opportunity that the creative industry has been waiting eagerly for. Han C says he has music already playing on Channel O.
âMost of our artists in Botswana do not have platforms to showcase their talent. I must applaud MultiChoice Botswana for finally providing light at the end of the tunnel. My fellow colleagues now have where to deposit their talent. This means more exposure for Botswana music and I content.â
For his part, award winning music producer, Fella, said this is a great development as it ensures ease of submission âso that everyone has a fair chance to get their visuals played because a lot of local artists did not have much easier and simple way to submit videos on the platform.â
He said this however, means upping standards and quality for âour music visuals taking them more serious than ever before. Channel O is a big, inter regional platform that for sure ensures quality control and values quality content,â Fella said in a quick interview.
Nonetheless, he expressed worry, questioning the length that the new project will take. âMy only issue is how many times we would see this happening. My wish is to see this happen every month if indeed it is intended for locals.â