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Newspapers: let’s break kola nut.

Compliments. Friends in the press  I write in the name of peace. I also  invite you to  break kola  nut as we introspect for the new year. As you know,  better than me,   the month  of January  is  known  for its slow news cycle. It  is no different this time round. Increasingly  the  competition  for   stories that  sell  is  becoming tighter. Newspapers  like other  media  outlets  involved in  news production  cannot  simply  decide  not  to publish  because  there  is no news.

If the news is not there,  well  it has to  be found. As  commercial  entities with overheads to meet  and profits  to  be generated  for proprietors the show  must  go on. More and more titles are   jostling for space  on newsstands.

At  the last count  Botswana boasted 14  privately owned papers, an impressive collection for  a population of  only two  million    in an expansive territory  where places of  human habitation  are  stretched  far  between.

Media historians record the  first English language title  to  appear on a regular basis, at  least  in the contemporary era  beginning in the eighties was  The   Examiner  in 1982, followed by The Guardian, 1983, then Mmegi a year later  in its third reincarnation having made previous forays in 1967 and 1971 respectively. The Gazette was also to announce its arrival in 1984. It cannot be coincidence  that the publishing explosion of the eighties corresponded with the country’s nascent economic boom which brought concomitant  literacy  rates and  a cosmopolitan culture. This after all  was the beginning of  the middle class and we know the  majority of  newspaper consumers belong in this  category.

The political economy  of commercial media  is dictated by constitutional liberties  and  a thriving  middle class. Any need for testimony that BDP  policies  have spawned  a burgeoning middle class  in  the thirty odd years since The Examiner flew off the printing press takes just once glance  at the heaving newsstands. Ours  has been a glut  of  newspapers, some falling by the wayside, others  surviving  and more still  being  established. The  many titles  in existence  ensures  readers  enjoy an embarrassment  of riches  every  day in terms of content to choose from. Growth in this   sector has  brought  obvious  benefits to our  body politic.

For many  at personal level it has brought us the unbridled joy of the written word. It has not only created a home grown industry with opportunities for empowerment  but made us better informed about our neck of woods called Botswana. Our celebrities  and icons rejoice with us at the flip  of  a page. And no less  critically, as   in any  vibrant democracy  print media plays a crucial oversight function. 

Owing to the cautious editorial stance of the  only  government  paper which  keeps  a wide  berth  of  opinion,  investigation  and  sensation,  it has been left to  the  private titles  to expose  all  manner of  unsavoury  acts  that from time to time visit  us as a nation. Now the flipside. Though deserving of praise on certain scores,  the  press  has  not  altogether covered itself  in  glory.  For starters, because of  a spirit  which promotes fraternity  over  genuine rivalry,  newspapers have  tended to play the role of  their brother’ s keeper  where  some titles  have  been caught  wanting. 

This  has in turn created  a culture of impunity  in the ranks whereby  deficiencies which  end  up  short changing the reader by  undermining fundamental journalistic principles  are buried under the carpet.  Our  newspapers should recognise that  by virtue of acting as a watchdog over the powers that  be,  the same  obligation must extend  to  their fraternity. Unless the watchdog also watches the watchdog  standards of quality  and  accountability  will  remain  in question. Again, notwithstanding  pockets of  brilliance,  quality  of  reportage  and  content  is  one  area  where our   papers  still have their  work cut out. Although this is somewhat    mitigated  by professional  design and graphics  the heart of any  newspaper  is  content, especially  in  a cluttered  market that ours  is  becoming.

For instance when I was a legislator  I used to  bemoan the  practise  of  putting  junior reporters  on the   parliamentary  beat. In established  democracies  the  legislature is  covered by  seasoned  hands  who   have spent many suns studying the rules  and understanding  the  parlance   used  in the house.  Some  bills  and  draft policies are so  complex  as to  even  confuse  veteran legislators. Now what  more  of  junior reporters  who inadequacy forces to submit copy based  on the  best sound  bites  and other  histrionics  at the expense of  substance. Then there is  the developmental  question. I still don’t believe in a developing  society  the private press should adopt  an adversarial  stance  against  government.

Without suggesting  they transform into lapdogs  of  government,  the  private  press has  demonstrated a terrible aversion  to   playing  a developmental  role   with regards to disseminating  public policies  and  programmes. Here the impulse  seems to  be  to report  government  policies  in negative framing mediated by critical  voices. I remain  convinced  our  private  press can  balance its  watchdog, nay critical  role with  a parallel agenda that mobilises  citizens to take up  government  programmes  for  self- betterment. This  editorial bias actually   finds expression  in  the  number  of  pro  opposition columnists who outnumber   pro  government  voices in papers that are ostensibly non partisan. 

Though  not  yet proven but  featuring  on  the list of things  on which to introspect are  ominous whispers of  brown envelope journalism where  reporters are allegedly imbedded in  newsrooms  to serve certain   interest  groups   in exchange  for  under  the table monetary reward.  One  just hopes that  in  the quest  to  build  an ethical, credible  and  fair  newspapers, rumours of  brown envelope  journalism should dealt  with and  never become  par for the course  like in  certain countries.

As  they say  perceptions  sometimes  matter  more than  reality and here  I  refer to  the  widely held  view  within the BDP  that  the  print  press  is  pro opposition  and can  never say anything  positive  in favour of the  ruling  party. Our  activists complain that  problems afflicting  the opposition  are glossed over  and even  ignored.

Even  if   opposition  issues are reported  on  it is only  to  undermine  one  opposition party  against  another and this  is    because  the fraternity  itself   is divided into  sectarian  lines between the  opposition formations.  More discernible nowadays  is  how  newspaper sectarianism is playing out in  coverage of  trade union politics where one doesn’t  have to be a journalism professor to tell that something that goes beyond normal reporting is underway in the contestation for territory between BOFEPUSO and BOPEU.  It’ s  space  worth watching. As  for  the 2014 general elections the BDP bore the full brunt of  private  press fusillade in favour of UDC with BCP suffering serious collateral  damage. That blatant partisanship is however  not  a subject for today. Friends, as  we introspect  in this new year, these  are  but some of my possibly uneducated observations, limited by space,  over which I thought we  should  break  kola nut. Compliments!    
 

*Botsalo Ntuane is BDP Secretary General

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Opinions

Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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Opinions

The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Opinions

Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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