World Journalists Condemn Botswana Over "Dangerous" Draft Media Law

The International Federation of Journalists today warned that government plans for a Press Council in Botswana with extensive powers to impose fines and jail terms on journalists and publishers were "dangerous, unworkable and could limit freedom of expression."

"The Bill threatens to undermine efforts by media professionals to establish genuine self-regulation," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "The affairs of journalism and the ethics of our profession are best left to those with professional responsibilities. We urge the government of Botswana to withdraw this Bill in favour of a dialogue with journalists and media organisations. The way forward should be based upon international principles of self-regulation."

The IFJ criticised the Bill for providing heavy penalties that are themselves ill-defined. "There is no sense of balance in penalties which range from fines of up to 5,000 Pula (around 1,000 US Dollars) and prison terms of up to 3 years. Such provisions amount to undue and unacceptable pressure on journalists and will be strongly opposed by the IFJ," said Aidan White in a letter to the President of Botswana Festus Mogae.

The Bill provides for restrictive measures to license journalists. "These fail to recognise the fast-moving reality of journalism and will discriminate against journalists working as foreign correspondents," says the IFJ.

The IFJ said the Bill was seriously flawed and called on the government to withdraw the draft and to meet media professionals who have been preparing a proposal for self-regulation in recent months.

"Instead of launching draconian laws, the government should undertake efforts to ensure that Botswana continues to respect international standards of press freedom," said the IFJ.