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In defence of The WeekendPost

It is no longer just a subtle suspicion that something is brewing inside the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.

By the time the public gets a glimpse of what it is all about, there would be a scary number of dead bodies scattered all over the place.

Last week the WeekendPost newspaper ran a story in which the BDP Secretary General said his party would have no problem consorting with Botswana Congress Party.

It is a statement that has annoyed the BCP big time.

The BCP spokesperson has since called Ntuane’s words “blasphemous infidelity”.

By far the greatest anger has however been reserved for President Ian Khama.

Those who attended the BDP Central Committee meeting on Monday say the President was foaming at the mouth over words attributed to Ntuane.

Another BDP insider told me that the last time he saw Khama that angry was during the time when he was at loggerheads with Gomolemo Motswaledi who shortly thereafter was sacked from the party.

Ntuane did not attend the Monday Central Committee as he was in England taking part in the annual conference of the Tory Party.

But still that did not stop the Chairman of the BDP Publicity Sub-Committee, Thapelo Pabalinga from releasing a damning statement calling The WeekendPost report “false, mischievous and deliberately misleading.”

“We continuously urge the media to ensure they report facts and nothing else lest their media houses loose [sic] credibility… Our office is always open to the media to give them information as they require, so kindly do call. ”

“There has never been a discussion at Central Committee or any party structure,” continued Pabalinga “about the BDP pushing for a coalition with the BCP or any of the other insinuations mentioned in the said newspaper.”

While forming a coalition with the BCP might expressly not be a BDP policy, it is manifestly disingenuous for a ruling party functionary to blame The weekendPost for running a story to that effect especially when it originates from no less a figure than the Secretary General.

It is very clear from Pabalinga’s statement that once again the media is being used as a scapegoat to divert attention from what problems are besetting the BDP.

Instead of the BDP dealing with the public fallout coming from their eagerness to align with the BCP as espoused by their Secretary General, they choose to go for the soft target by casting aspersions on the integrity not just of The WeekendPost and their reporter, but also of the media in general.

The posture of the current BDP Government has been nothing if not outright hostile to the media.

But still the statement by Pabalinga reached new lows in the party’s contempt for the media.

The tone of the statement effectively depicted the media in general and The WeekendPost in particular as irresponsible fools.

This is not the first time in the recent past that we have seen this kind of insidious behavior coming from that quarter.

Exactly two weeks ago the Office of the President started a thumb-sucking rumour by accusing the media of peddling allegations that President Ian Khama was planning to go for a third term. The Office of the President did not substantiate on this immensely serious and scandalous lie that they attributed to the media. No media house was mentioned by name.

At the time we let that pass because we erroneously believed that it was really an issue not worth engaging on. With hindsight, we now realize we should have called off their bluff and called on the Office of the President to account and explain themselves.

This time around the allegations against The WeekendPost are pointed and much more damning. And they cannot go unchallenged.

Having talked at length to the reporter who penned the story quoting Ntuane, I am wholly convinced that indeed the Secretary General of the BDP had said something to The WeekendPost.

That may put Ntuane into trouble, but it inherently should be of no concern to the media.

Rather than vent their tantrums on The WeekendPost, the BDP should have privately engaged their Secretary General and shown him what a public embarrassment his statement has been to the party, to the President and indeed to the ordinary members.

It is thus malicious and indeed reprehensible for Pabalinga to say “… Rre Ntuane for the record has never given The WeekendPost an interview on this and distances himself, all-together from the article.”

As it is the WeekendPost has become a scapegoat in a subterranean fight for the soul of the BDP.

To his credit, the Editor of The WeekendPost has since publicly stood behind his reporter and the story as published.

It is nonetheless important to put the whole saga into a proper context.

The events surrounding The WeekendPost speak out to the gravity of problems besetting the BDP.

The Secretary General is on a mode akin to hysteria.

He feels that it is up to him to save the BDP from itself.

He has as a result come up with a suite of reforms he says will be necessary if the party is at best to retain state power beyond 2019.

That by itself is an admission that the BDP is in un-chartered territory.

The trouble with the Secretary General is that he somehow believes that what glory might come from saving the BDP should exclusively be his alone.

Unfettered by any historical baggage Ntuane has been making pontifications that at times may sound like he is the one in charge of the BDP.

He is getting ahead of himself. He is also opening himself to all sorts of vulnerabilities.

He believes, with some justification that the cabal that was in charge before him are responsible for the disaster that has struck the party.

That cabal, it has to be pointed includes President Ian Khama.

And as the Secretary General would know from experience, it is blasphemous inside the BDP to apportion any kind of blame, however innocuous to Ian Khama.

What war Botsalo Ntuane has ignited has all the hallmarks of a previous one by another Secretary General, the late Gomolemo Motswaledi.

To survive, the BDP will need reforms way beyond those prescribed by Ntuane.

While there are those inside the who feel that Ntuane’s reforms are too broad, far-sweeping, unbridled and potentially destabilizing, the fact of the matter is that such reforms are acutely inadequate, half-hearted and possibly  too little too late  save a party whose real problems are not just internal structural defects, but also general malaise as magnified by those besetting the country.

In here it is important to pause and remind Ntuane that he is not, at least not as yet, a member of Khama’s inner circle, let alone in charge of the BDP.

He is an outsider who is still looked at with suspicion.

If he was accepted by both hands, his immediate predecessor, Mpho Balopi under whose watch the party experienced a train-smash would not have been appointed to the Central Committee.

Balopi’s appointment was calculated and directly crafted to spite the incoming Secretary General.

The ongoing controversy over members of the BDP Communications Sub-Committee should serve as a reminder to Ntuane that power rests elsewhere – and that he is by no means anywhere close to power.

The anger aroused by an innocent article in The WeekendPost is a cherry on top.

Ntuane is not known to suffer fools gladly. He is obviously angry at what he perceives as BDP inertia. But boy, be warned! Reduce your zeal, no matter how passionate you might feel about your reforms.

To the media in general may this be a resounding lesson of the difficult circumstances in which we operate today.

We must thus be vigilant with our sources, make sure we keep our notebooks ready and tape recorders at hand, and also be ruthless in the screening of our sources.

Gullibility, credulity and blind faith are at this moment our biggest threats.

*Spencer Mogapi is Chairman of Botswana Editors Forum

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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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