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Politics and the Media Practitioners (Repeal) Bill

The Media Practitioners (Repeal) Bill, 2019, which was published on the 13th December 2019 in the Government Gazette, is set to be defeated for the second time in Parliament.

Why was the repeal Bill rejected in 2019 and why is it likely to be defeated again? The draconian law has been in the public discourse for at least twelve years. It would be recalled that a repeal Bill was Gazetted on the 14th December 2018 and was debated by Parliament on April 2019, a year after President Mokgweetsi Masisi ascended to the high office of President.

When the Bill which culminated into the Act was first presented in parliament in 2008, it was outrightly rejected by stakeholders such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), especially the Botswana Chapter.

The Law Society of Botswana, publishers, journalists, editors and other pressure groups rejected the Bill then. Their positions havent changed. Political parties in the opposition also dismissed the law as oppressive and inimical to democracy; it became one of the campaign issues of 2009 general elections.

Member of Parliament Nonofo Molefhi, Minister in the Presidency, as he then was, led the ruling partys onslaught to defeat the Private Members repeal Bill in 2019. He reasoned in parliament then that government had started a process in 2015 for the amendment to the media law in question so as to improve it – to take into consideration some of the views from their engagement with private practitioners where they can create a self-regulatory arrangement.

The minister stated that at the end they would be able to create an apex organisation that would be the Media Ombudsman. This line of argument was raised before by Ministers in the Presidency when answering parliamentary questions regarding the law.

Following the defeat of the Bill in April 2019, the ruling party posted on their Facebook page on the 17th September 2019, a month before General Elections that If its true and in the public’s interest, the media should run the story without fear of repercussions. The BDP firmly believes that the truth will set Botswana free.

This is why we will repeal the Media Practitioners Act of 2008 that has seen journalists silenced and punished for doing their jobs. We need our media to keep on reporting in the publics best interests. As stated, barely five months before, the ruling party had rejected the Bill to repeal the Media Practitioners Act.

MISA Botswana also expressed disappointment a few days after the rejection. It stated in a statement that MISA is particularly surprised and concerned by this turn of events following indications by President Mokgweetsi Masisi that his administration was willing to look into the Bill among many other issues- towards improving government relations with the private media, particularly promoting media freedom.

We dont believe that there is any reasonable justification whatsoever for the failure by the majority to support the motion that called upon the repeal of the draconian Media Practitioners Act. The failure to pass the motion shows a lack of commitment for the support of media freedom. The effect of the failure by Parliament to repeal the MPA means that a dark and ominous cloud in the form of the MPA continues to hang over the heads of media practitioners.

On the 3rd of May 2020, World Press Freedom Day, President Masisis message was posted on BWGovernment Facebook page and it read in part His Excellency wishes to assure the media of his Government’s commitment to repeal the Media Practitioners Act and allow for self-regulation by the media.

The Government also remains committed to promulgating the Freedom of Information Act and promises that it will be brought before Parliament soon. This was five months after the Private Member Gazetted the Bill to repeal the bad law.

Why did pro-democracy forces oppose this law in the first place? Civil society organisations, including the media fraternity, have been and are still of the opinion that this law contradicts Section 12 of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression – which also implies freedom of the press. They contended that it is an archaic law with no place in a democratic society. Such laws, they contended were common in anti-democratic systems such as military dictatorships, one party states and other authoritarian systems.

It was argued that the Media Practitioners Act, 2008, criminalizes journalism, restricts media work and intimidates journalists. It promotes self-censorship by publishers, journalists and editors. The law establishes a Press Council which will purportedly act as a self-regulating body that will monitor the activities of the press and ensure the maintenance of high professional standards, and to provide for the registration and accreditation of media practitioners.

The law criminalizes journalistic activities in that it provides for stiffer penalties including hefty fines and jail terms against media practitioners. As said above, such kind of laws were common in one-party states and outright dictatorships; they were cited as illustrations of a deficit of democracy in such polities.

Since independence, freedom of information (the free access of the public to information contained in government records) and freedom of speech (liberty to express opinions and ideas without hindrance and without fear of punishment) have been restricted and controlled by Botswanas strong authoritarian state in a manner that gravely undermines and negates the principles of transparency and accountability.

The Media Practitioners Act was therefore seen as an attempt to cement the authoritarian character of the state. Democracy presupposes that rulers should be accountable to the ruled; they should be obliged to justify their actions to the ruled. Political leaders should answer to the public on the disposal of their powers and duties, act upon criticisms or demands made of them, and accept responsibility for failures, blunders, incompetence or deceit. This is only achievable if there is free media which is able to work without fear or any policy or legislative impediments.

So, the object to the repeal Bill, currently under consideration, is to rescind the Media Practitioners Act (Cap. 61:09) which was passed by Parliament on the 11th day of December 2008, almost 12 years ago, assented to on the 22nd December 2008 and commenced on the 31st December 2008.

This Act was however never implemented mainly because key stakeholders refuse to participate yet their participation is mandatory in the Act. The majority of aforementioned stakeholders subscribe to the international standard of self-regulation, media freedom and are of the view that it is a draconian and regressive law.

Responding to the proposal to repeal the law, The Minister in the Presidency agreed that the law must be repealed and confirmed his governments desire to do so. However, he rejected the attempt to repeal the law by an MP. The contradiction was outrageous to many, especially the media fraternity. Why communicate the intention to repeal and reject such gestures?

The answer can be found in the tradition set by the ruling party of how it deals with proposals from the opposition. So many Bills, motions, policy proposals and other suggestion were first rejected by the ruling party when presented by the opposition, only to be brought back by the ruling party. The reasons for the rejection by the Minister were frivolous and vexatious.

He reasoned that the Bill cant be repealed without anything in its place. He failed dismally to explain what is in place since by his own admission the law has been inoperable for twelve years. He couldnt point to the void that would be created. He simply needed reasons to reject the Bill that his party and his president made clear that they will repeal.

The Media law was enacted under the pretext of providing for self-regulation but fall short of the key principles of self-regulation and therefore undermines media freedoms. Parliament and the government must accept the reality that its been impossible to enforce and implement the Act for 12 years.

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Columns

STRESS TEST

14th December 2022

We have come a long way from the 19th century, when mental un-healthiness was not recognised as treatable. In those days mental health problems were viewed as a sign of madness, warranting imprisonment in often merciless and unhygienic conditions; and with that backdrop you would think twice before calling in sick because of stress or admit feelings of hopelessness or depression but that’s changing. That may sound like good news but it’s not.

Reasons why employees don’t show up for work can vary, but one thing is for certain; an organisation relies on its staff to get things done and when employees don’t show up for work it disrupts organisational plans, takes up the valuable time from management and lowers the company’s productivity. It’s always been that people miss work for several reasons, some understandable and legitimate and others less so but it’s important that we know the reasons so that such situations can be better managed.

Today stress is one of the most common causes of long-term absence and is especially prevalent amongst office-based staff. This is also related to absence due to depression or anxiety. Is this indicative of where we are as a society, a sign of the times which is that people are constantly pressurised and have less work-life balance?

The British Museum houses a tablet which provides a peek into work-life balance in ancient Egypt. It documents how many sick days and why 40 workers took time off from their workplace in 1250 BC. All sorts of fascinating reasons have been given for why people were away from their work, including a note about someone named Buqentuf, who needed time off for embalming and wrapping the corpse of his dead mother.

There were other reasons like some workers, such as a man named Pennub, missed work because their mothers were ill.  Others had causes that we wouldn’t expect to hear as often today, such as men who stayed home to help around the house due to a “wife or daughter bleeding” – a reference to menstruation. But no mention of mental health, not because it didn’t exist, but it wasn’t labelled thus not reported.

What was reported was a person such as Aapehti who was said to have been ill on a regular basis and also took time off when he was “making offerings to god”.  Workers also took days off when they had to perform tasks for their superiors – which was apparently permitted in moderate amounts. For example, Amenmose was allowed time away from work when he was “fetching stones for the scribe:  And what about other employees who had to excuse themselves from work to brew beer, an activity which was associated with some of their gods and rituals.

All fascinating stuff which provides insight into life at that time. But what insights can we gather from today’s sick leave records? One study recently undertaken gives us insight into the UK police force’s absenteeism. Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act from police forces in the UK showed that the number of days absent due to mental health problems increased by 9% in one year, from 457,154 in 2020 to 497,154 in 2021.

And here is the shocker. Police have taken a record 500,000 days off due to mental health issues. Zoe Billingham, a former police inspector, suggested there was a greater prevalence of mental health issues among emergency services, due to what they faced during the pandemic of coronavirus. “Police and other frontline services have protected us during the pandemic,” she said. “The pandemic was a great unknown. People were really scared of dying and coming into contact with the virus, and a lot of people did.”

It is a ‘mental health epidemic’ among police. Alistair Carmichael, Home Affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “Frontline police officers do an incredible job serving their communities. But we know that the stress of policing can take a heavy toll on the mental health of officers, in some cases leading to burnout.

Let’s look at another group. A poll by Gallup reported that in the last three years, 75% of young adults aged 18–22 have left their jobs because of stated mental health reasons. This study showed that employees (millennials and Gen Z) want employers who care about their wellbeing. Contributing factors to mental health stress centre around increases in uncertainty and include: Hybrid work environments and the side-effects: no socialization, no end time, no feedback, caring for others; changing rules around work often with poor communications & clarity;  inconsistency & incompleteness of rule implementation:  Uncertainty from these and other factors leads to anxiety and depression.

 

The real story here is not that burnout, stress, depression and anxiety are becoming the number one reasons for absenteeism but that for a large part they are preventable. We have the data telling us it’s the problem but still organisations are doing very little to proactively manage it. Sure, we have counselling services for staff who are struggling and wellness days to reinforce feelings of wellbeing, but this is not enough.

If we start caring and developing work cultures that do not create unintentional stress through how work gets done, that will go a long way to change the status quo. Simple things like ensuring your culture doesn’t thrive on fire drills and heroics to get things done and that emails do not come with expected responses after hours or over the weekend. If we can stop managers bullying, yelling or losing their cool when there is a performance or customer issue and begin giving people more control over their work – all of these are the kinds of stuff that contribute to weakened mental health and absenteeism.

To sum up, your staff’s stress levels are directly proportional to your business’s absentee levels.  Ergo, lowering the former, will also reduce the latter.  Stress down, productivity up and everybody wins out.

QUOTE

Contributing factors to mental health stress centre around increases in uncertainty and include: Hybrid work environments and the side-effects: no socialization, no end time, no feedback, caring for others; changing rules around work often with poor communications & clarity;  inconsistency & incompleteness of rule implementation:  Uncertainty from these and other factors leads to anxiety and depression.

 

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Diana Irks Queen

14th December 2022
I

In September 1978, General Atiku, Princess Diana had enrolled for a cookery course. That same month whilst she was staying at her parents’ home in Norfolk, her friends innocently asked about the health of her father  John Spencer, the 8th Earl. Hitherto, the Earl’s health had never been a matter of concern but Diana somewhat inscrutably voiced a somewhat portendous outlook. “He’s going to drop down in some way,” she said.  “If he dies, he will die immediately;  otherwise he’ll survive.”  

It came to pass,  General. The following day, the telephone bell rang to the news that her father had collapsed in the courtyard of his Althorp Estate residence and that he had been rushed to a nearby hospital after suffering a massive cerebral haemorrhage. The medical prognosis was bleak:  Earl Spencer was not expected to survive the night. Writes Andrew Morton in Diana Her True Story: “For two days the children camped out in the hospital waiting-room as their father clung on to life. When doctors announced that there was a glimmer of hope, Raine [second wife] organised a private ambulance to take him to the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in Queen Square, Central London, where for several months he lay in a coma.”

Raine was so fiercely protective of her beloved husband that she had the nurses see to it that his own children did not come near him in this critical condition in his elitist private room.  ‘I’m a survivor and people forget that at their peril,” she would later tell a journalist. “There’s pure steel up my backbone. Nobody destroys me, and nobody was going to destroy Johnnie so long as I could sit by his bed – some of his family tried to stop me – and will my life force into him.” But if Raine had steel in her, General, so did the implacable Spencer children, more so the eldest of them all.  “During this critical time,” Morton goes on, “the ill feeling between Raine and the children boiled over into a series of vicious exchanges. There was iron too in the Spencer soul and numerous hospital corridors rang to the sound of the redoubtable Countess and the fiery Lady Sarah Spencer [the Earl’s firstborn child] hissing at each other like a pair of angry geese.”

As Diana had correctly predicted, her father was not destined to die at that juncture but healthwise he was never the same henceforth. First, he suffered a relapse in November that same year and was moved to another hospital. Once again, he teetered on the brink. He was drifting in and out of consciousness and as such he was not able to properly process  people who were visiting him, including his own daughters when nurses relented and allowed them in. Even when he was awake a feeding tube in his throat meant that he was unable to speak. Understandably, Diana found it hard to concentrate on the cookery course she had enrolled in a few days before her father suffered his stroke.

But Raine, General,  was determined that her husband survive come rain or shine. Morton: “When his doctors were at their most pessimistic, Raine’s will-power won through. She had heard of a German drug called Aslocillin which she thought could help and so she pulled every string to find a supply. It was unlicensed in Britain but that didn’t stop her. The wonder drug was duly acquired and miraculously did the trick. One afternoon she was maintaining her usual bedside vigil when, with the strains of Madam Butterfly playing in the background, he opened his eyes ‘and was back’. In January 1979, when he was finally released from hospital, he and Raine booked into the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane for an expensive month-long convalescence. Throughout this episode the strain on the family was intense.”

Altogether, Earl Spencer had been in hospital for 8 straight months. The lingering effects of the stroke left him somewhat unsteady on his feet when he escorted his daughter down the aisle at St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1981 for her marriage to the Prince of Wales.

 

R.I.P. EARL SPENCER

 

It was not until March 29, 1992, General, that Earl Spencer finally gave up the ghost. He was admitted in hospital for pneumonia but what killed him days later was a heart attack. Rumours of his death actually began to make the rounds the day before he passed on. At the time, Diana was on a skiing holiday in the  Austrian Alps along with  her estranged hubby Prince Charles and their two kids William and Harry.

When Diana was told of her dad’s death, she insisted that under no circumstances would she return to England on the same flight as Charles, with whom she was barely on talking terms. “I mean it, Ken,” she told her body minder Ken Wharfe. “I don’t want him with me. He doesn’t love me – he loves that woman [Camilla]. Why should I help save his face? Why the bloody hell should I? It’s my father who has gone. It’s a bit bloody late for Charles to start playing the caring husband, don’t you think so?”

Naturally, General, Charles was alarmed, particularly that his efforts to use one of his right-hand-men to reason with the Princess had been rebuffed. He therefore  prevailed over Wharfe to try and ram sense into his wife. “Lord Spencer’s death was a major news story,” writes Ken Wharfe,  “and if the Prince and Princess did not return to Britain together then nothing, not even compassion for the grief-stricken Diana, would stop the journalists from going for the jugular. The truth about the Waleses would be immediately and blindingly obvious to the most naive journalist … Returning to the Princess’s room, I told her bluntly that this was not a matter for debate. ‘Ma’am, you have to go back with the Prince. This one is not open for discussion. You just have to go with it’.’’

At long last persuaded, General, Diana said, “Okay Ken, I’ll do it. Tell him I’ll do it, but it is for my father, not for him – it is out of loyalty to my father.” But what in truth got Diana to change tack was the intervention of the Queen, who personally called her at Charles’ own request. That, however, General, was only as far as Diana was prepared to play ball: as far as engaging with Charles in conversation was concerned, that was simply inconceivable. “There was an icy silence for the rest of the two-hour journey,” writes Wharfe. “Nothing was said during the entire flight. The Princess did not want to speak to her husband and he, fearing a furious or even hysterical outburst, did not dare even to try to start a conversation. Whatever the discomforts of the journey, however, it was soon clear that the PR spin had worked. The next day it was reported that Prince Charles was at Diana’s side in her hour of need. Yet as soon as the Prince and Princess arrived at Kensington Palace they went their separate ways – he to Highgrove, and she to pay her last respects to her father.”

Lord Spencer was 68 when he died. He was a remote descendant of King Henry VIII.

 

PRINCE CHARLES FINALLY OWNS UP TO ADULTERY WITH CAMILLA

 

In June 1994, when Diana and Charles had been separated for exactly one-and-half years, Prince Charles was interviewed in a BBC documentary by Jonathan Dimbleby. The interview was billed as intended to mark Charles’ 25 anniversary as Prince of Wales but it was in truth a not-to-cleverly-disguised riposte to Diana Her True Story, the highly controversial 1992 collaboration between Diana and Andrew Morton.

In the interview, which was watched by 13 million people, Charles, General, openly admitted for the first time that he had committed adultery with Camilla Parker-Bowles, who he hailed as, “a great friend of mine who has been a friend for a very long time and will continue to be a friend for a very long time”. Diana had been requested to feature in the interview alongside her husband but she parried the overture on the advice of her aides, which was spot-on as she would have been greatly embarrassed by her hubby’s unsavoury confession in her own face and on national television.

The Prince’s candid confessional was followed weeks later by a book titled The  Prince of Wales: A Biography, which was written by the same Jonathan Dimbleby. The book was even frankier than the interview. In it, Charles put it bluntly that she had never once loved Diana and that he married her only because he was coerced into doing so by his  notoriously overbearing father. Charles also made it known that as a child, he had been bullied by his abusive father, virtually ignored by his mother, and persecuted by a wife he portrayed as both spoiled and mentally unstable.   Both Diana and his parents were revolted by the bare-knuckle  contents of the book though Dana need not have been irked considering that it was she herself who had fired the first salvo in the Morton book.

 

BASHIR INTERVIEW BODES ILL FOR DIANA

 

If Diana’s collaboration with Morton was a miscalculation, General, Prince Charles’ Dimbleby interview was equally so. For in November 1995, the wayward Princess hit back with her own tell-all interview on BBC’s  current affairs programme called Panorama. “She wanted to get even with Prince Charles over his adulterous confession with the Dimbleby documentary,” writes Paul Burrell, her final butler, in A Royal Duty.

The interview was conducted by journalist Martin Bashir who was attached to BBC, and was watched by 23 million people,  conferring it the distinction of having attracted the largest audience for any television documentary in broadcasting history. In the interview, Diana voiced concern about there having been “three of us in this marriage and so it was  a bit crowded”, the intruder obviously being Camilla. Diana also gave Charles a dose of his own medicine by confessing to her own adulterous relationship with James Hewitt, of whom she said, “Yes, I adored him, yes, I was in love with him”. Hewitt had at the time documented his affair with Diana in lurid detail in a best-selling book and Diana thought he had ill-conceivedly stabbed her in the back.

And as if to rub salt into the wound, General, Diana cast serious  doubts on her husband’s fitness to rule as future King and therefore his eventual accession to the British throne.   Unfortunately for her, the interview sealed her fate  in so far as her marriage was concerned. “In her headstrong decision to co-operate with Bashir,” says Burrell, “she had never considered, perhaps naively, the implications that Panorama had for her marriage.” Indeed, just four weeks after the interview, the Queen, after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote personally to both the Prince and Princess of Wales requesting that they divorce sooner rather than later.

It was a dream-come-true for at least two parties to the triangle, namely Charles and Camilla. But did it also constitute music to the ears of Princess Diana too, General?

 

Pic Cap

SOWING THE WIND ONLY TO REAP THE WHIRLWIND: Martin Bashir interviews Princess Diana in a BBC documentary which aired on Monday 29 November 1995. The interview incensed the Windsors: the following month, Queen Elizabeth ordered Charles and Diana to sever matrimonial ties. In her vengeful resolve to hit back at her husband following his own interview the previous year, Diana had foolishly sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

NEXT WEEK: DIANA REVERTS TO SINGLENESS

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Rights of an Individual in Islam

14th December 2022

Islam is a way of life completed and perfected by the last and final Messenger of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The Holy Quran along with the practical teachings of the Prophet (pbuh) forms the basis of Islamic law, social, economic and political systems of Islam – in short the basis of a complete code of conduct for the entire life of a Muslim

Regrettably in this day and age there are certain views in non-Muslims that have a very negative ‘view’ of Islam. The bottom line is that if a Muslim says that two plus two is four, others can ‘argue’ to say three plus one is four, or two times two is four or the square root of 16 is four. The bottom line is no matter what we may think we all are ‘correct’. The fact is that we are all on this earth for a ‘limited’ time. Regardless of beliefs, tribe, race, colour or our social standing in life, we will all die one day or the other and we will “all” be called up thereafter to answer for our behaviour, beliefs, and our life on this earth.

To a Muslim the Holy Quran is the Divine Revelation which is all encompassing and lays down in clear terms, how we should live our daily lives including the need for humans to allow fellow humans certain basic rights at all times. Due to the limited space available I can only reflect on some of the major fundamental rights laid down by Islam:

Right to life

The first and foremost of fundamental basic human-rights is the right to life. “Whosoever kills any human being (without any valid reason) like manslaughter or any disruption and chaos on earth, it is though he had killed all the mankind. And whoever saves a life it is though as he had saved the lives of all mankind” (Quran Ch5: v 32). It further declares: “Do not kill a soul which Allah has made sacred except through the due process of law” (Quran Ch6: v 151). Islam further explains that this sacrosanct right to life is not granted only to its adherents (believers), but it has been granted to all human beings without consideration of their religion, race, colour or sex

Right to Equality 

The Holy Quran recognises equality between humans irrespective of any distinction of nationality, race, colour or gender. “O Mankind We have created you from a male and female, and We made you as nations and tribes so that you may be able to recognise each other (not that you may despise each other). Indeed the most honourable among you before God is the most God-conscious”. (Quran Ch49: v 13). The Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) further explained this: “No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab…… You are all the children of Adam and Adam was created from soil”. If there is any superiority for a man it is based on his piety, righteousness, sense of responsibility and character. Even such a person with these noble qualities would not have any privileged rights over others.

Right to justice

Allah Almighty has bestowed on all human beings, believer or non-believer, friend or foe the right to justice.  The Holy Quran states: “We sent our messengers with clear teachings and sent down along with them the Book and the Balance so that society may be established on the basis of justice” (Quran Ch 57 : v 25). It further says “O Believers stand for the cause of God and as witness to justice and remember that enmity of some people should not lead you to injustice. Be just as it is nearest to God consciousness” (Quran Ch 5:v  8 ). This makes it obligatory that a believer must uphold justice in all circumstances, including to his enemies.

Right to freedom of conscience and religion

The Holy Quran clearly mentions that there is no compulsion in accepting or rejecting a religion. “There is no compulsion in (submitting to) the religion” (Quran Ch 2 : v 256). Every individual has been granted basic freedom to accept a religion of his or her choice. Therefore no religion should be imposed on a person.

Right to personal freedom

No person can be deprived of his or her personal freedom except in pursuance of justice. Therefore there cannot be any arbitrary or preventive arrest without the permission of duly appointed judge and in the light of a solid proof.

Right to Protection of Honour

Every person has been ensured basic human dignity which should not be violated. If someone falsely attacks the honour of a person the culprit will be punished according to the Islamic Law. The Holy Quran says: “Do not let one group of people make fun of another group”. It further states: “Do not defame one another”, the Quran goes on to say: And do not backbite or speak ill of one another” (Quran Ch 49  : v 11-12).

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