President Ian Khama’s administration has been accused of censoring labour leaders in Botswana’s ongoing public sector strike while giving government officials frequent opportunities to lambast labour on state-owned television and radio stations.
The state-run Botswana Television (BTV) is the only television station with national coverage and the state-run radio stations have more coverage than private stations.
The Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions has complained that, since the more than 80 000 workers went on an indefinite strike more than three weeks ago, government ministers and senior officials have been interviewed regularly, but the unions have not been afforded the same opportunity.
Goretetse Kekgonegile, the federation spokesperson, said its members were worried about the state media’s attitude to the strikers (he called it a “propaganda war”), although the private and international media were giving the strikers extensive coverage.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) in Botswana has condemned what it called the “continued abuse and use of state media [by Khama’s government] against citizens”.
Mpho Motlhabani, Misa Botswana’s acting national director, said “the current situation, where the government uses BTV, Radio Botswana and the Daily News [the country’s largest daily and government owned] as propaganda tools cannot be accepted in a democratic dispensation”.
Motlhabani said the government’s decision to deny union leaders coverage and the right to reply was a “cowardly trend” that had been mastered by Khama’s administration.
“When he took over from [former president Festus] Mogae, Khama moved [the department of] information and broadcasting to the office of the president.”
Motlhabani also said it was not the first time the state had tried to block stories that could damage the government’s reputation.
Jeff Ramsay, the government spokesperson, denied that the state media were not giving the unions coverage. “Labour representatives have been invited to appear on BTV as well, but have not as yet taken up the offer,” he said in a statement.
Kekgonegile denied this.
The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, supported by M&G Media and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, produced this story. All views are the centre’s. www.amabhungane.co.za.