By: Khonani Ontebetse
Former Speaker of the National Assembly Dr. Margret Nasha at the weekend questioned the wisdom of government’s continued refusal to introduce community radio stations in Botswana.
Nasha who was the guest speaker at the MISA Botswana Gala dinner said the reasons that were advanced in the past, that Community broadcasting entities will divide a united Botswana along tribal lines and open them up to abuse by subversive elements, is both puzzling and absurd.
She said that Botswana still remains one of the three countries in the SADC region which do not support Community Broadcasting; the trio comprises Botswana, Zimbabwe and Swaziland.
“You know, our country is so neurotic about tribalism it never ceases to amaze me! We need to be lectured to, intensely about the philosophy of ‘unity in diversity.’ The simple question we should ask ourselves is: how come the same cannot be said to be true in other African countries where community radios have existed over so many years?” wondered Nasha.
She said community radio stations are accessible to the communities they serve; they talk about issues that the people can readily identify with, and they broadcast in the languages that the people understand best.
Nasha observed that before the introduction of such radio stations, an elaborate policy would have to be laid down and passed through Parliament, to govern the parameters within which they would operate.
“If that is the case, then what is there to fear, when you are in full control of the situation? For the record, and for the benefit of those who may be in doubt, Community Broadcasting is described as: “broadcasting which is for, by and about the community; whose ownership and management is representative of the community; which pursues a social development agenda, and which is non-profit making,” explained Nasha.
She said MISA Botswana continues to pursue the issue of introduction of Community Broadcasting in Botswana, and is determined to press on, until someone somewhere eventually pays attention.
Touching on other topical issues, Nasha recalled that there are numerous instances where the media in Botswana was pushed against the wall for publishing stories that were either perceived as reactionary or injurious to the unity, peace and tranquillity of the country.
“Offices have been raided, equipment confiscated and journalists spent uncomfortable nights with petty criminals in crowded prison cells; and no explanations offered,” she said.
Nasha said in a lot of instances the state lost cases in Courts of Law, whilst others, as it turned out, were created as some kind of elaborate smokescreen, only to quietly fizzle away with time.
“MISA Botswana did not turn a blind eye to that. You fearlessly spoke out against such incidents, engaging members of the public in the process, and in return you endured a lot of slander and outright condemnation,” she said.
“My understanding and yours of course is, that was to be expected. You would have been pleasantly surprised, had anything to the contrary happened. Thank you for standing up for the truth. For all we know, you could have chosen to remain silent. But you did not.”
According to Nasha some journalists working for the government-owned media have faced unpleasant consequences in the past, for associating themselves with MISA Botswana, which is seen as disparaging and disrespectful to those in positions of power and responsibility.
“You have not shied away from speaking out or writing about such incidents, as and when they occurred. We still remember vividly, Mr Sakaiyo Jane’s case as if it happened only yesterday. In that case too, you chose not to remain silent, and we thank you again, for standing on the side of the truth, which I am happy to say, eventually triumphed,” said Nasha.
She said there are several instances where the media in Botswana brought to the attention of the ordinary citizens certain crucial and sometimes disturbing information, which, in all probability would have gone unnoticed, had it not been for the bravery of some of the media houses.
“The Kalafatis issue here is a case in point. Those media houses paid and are continuing to pay a heavy price for their bravery. But MISA Botswana stood their ground in their support. And of course the curiosity of the reading public could only mean one thing: that the papers got cleared off the newspaper stands like hotcakes,” said Nasha.
Nasha added that the real reality of that bravery is that some of those media houses continue to struggle financially, as a result of “withheld advertising from Government Departments and parastatal institutions.”
She said those in the media business know full well, that without advertising, the future of those entities will continue to be difficult, and to some extent, uncertain.
“Be that as it may, you continue to engage anybody and everybody who cares to listen, to ensure that investigative journalism continues to thrive in our democracy. Difficult decisions lead to difficult circumstances, and that is what many of us are scared of. But you know what? We thank you for sticking to the truth, and for keeping the information flowing, albeit under difficult circumstances,” said Nasha.