10 April 2006
Controversial Mass Media Bill headed for Parliament
(MISA/IFEX) - Botswana's Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Pelonomi Venson, has announced that she will be presenting the controversial Mass Media Bill to Parliament. The proposed law has been rejected by media practitioners because they feel there was no extensive consultation with all stakeholders.
In a statement in Parliament at the end of March 2006, Venson said the Mass Media Bill would give legal powers and authority to the Press Council to perform its functions. She told Parliament that consultations are ongoing at cabinet level to pave the way for the adoption of a more comprehensive Broadcasting Policy. The draft Broadcasting Policy is a product of the National Broadcasting Board (NBB). It was compiled after extensive consultations with various stakeholders.
"I do not wish to pre-empt the deliberations of cabinet, but both the Mass Media Bill and the Broadcasting Policy will reach this Honourable House as products of holistic, universal and democratic consultations," she said. Venson said her ministry is trying to bring professionalism to the public media and is not introducing any laws or regulations that are inconsistent with the dictates of the Constitution.
"As a matter of fact, never before has government addressed media issues in as holistic and universal manner as we have been doing in recent years. My ministry is actively engaged in the establishment and improvement of product quality, standards and professionalism in the media through the Media Advisory Council (MAC). This all-embracing sub-committee of the High Level Consultative Council enjoys the active participation of private media practitioners, experts and personalities," she said.
Meanwhile, the national director of the Botswana chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Botswana), Modise Maphanyane, has expressed dismay that Venson intends to table the Mass Media Bill in Parliament.
"We don't expect any tabling of the Bill. We are of the belief that it has not been [properly] framed. What was discussed were the principles [to be followed in the drafting of the Bill]," said Maphanyane, adding that a task force was formed for this purpose.
"We don't believe we have been debating the Bill. We have been debating the principles. The minister must not confuse the two exercises. We are not waiting for the Bill. We are waiting for consultation. We take a dim view of the process," he said. Maphanyane said that initially, media organisations had given input to the proposed Bill but that this input was rejected on the basis that Bills are only formulated by the Attorney General.