The Government of Botswana has passed the controversial Media Practitioners Law, which was assented to by the executive on 22 December, 2008 and gazetted on 31 December. This follows a rushed enactment by Parliament in the same month, in which members of parliament were denied the opportunity to further subject the bill to debate.
The controversial law seeks to establish a media council, which represents a name departure from the initial Press Council of Botswana. Among other things, the law requires media practitioners to be registered by a government-appointed body. Failing to register and accredit with the council is punishable by a fine not exceeding P5000 (approx. US$630) or three years in jail. The complaints and appeals committees shall be appointed by the minister, who also has the right to dissolve the council.
MISA-Botswana regrets the latest development and has continued to label the law repressive and not different from those used by governments such as Zimbabwe to suppress media rights. MISA-Botswana plans to continue to campaign against the law in all possible ways.
Journalists fear the law will be used to clamp down on dissenting media houses and media workers, more so as Botswana goes for a general election this year. MISA-Botswana argued when the bill was gazetted that this law would amount to direct interference in the affairs of the media. Fearing retributive measures by the council, the media is likely to be cowed into self censorship, hence denying citizens critical information.Article published courtesy of IFEX