Freedom of the Press

Botswana

Botswana

Freedom of the Press 2007

2007 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

35

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

16

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

11

Freedom of speech and of the press are provided for in the constitution, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. However, recent years have seen deterioration in freedom of expression in Botswana. Libel is a civil offense, and in past years publications have been charged with defamation and have had to pay large amounts of money in court-ordered damages or as part of a settlement. The National Security Act (NSA), enacted in 1986 during Botswana’s conflict with apartheid South Africa, remains on the books and has been used to restrict reporting on government activities. In August, the government presented Parliament with a draft version of the Botswana Broadcasting bill. The bill included plans to establish a new community broadcasting sector—though the number of licenses available to community radio and television stations was not specified—as well as a public entity to monitor the quality and objectivity of state-owned media. Botswana does not have a freedom of information law, and critics accuse the government of excessive secrecy.

Journalists are occasionally threatened, harassed, or attacked in retaliation for their reporting. This was a particularly acute problem in 2005 when the government employed immigration legislation to deport two Zimbabwean journalists, Rodrick Mukumbira and Charles Chirinda, who had criticized state policies; both were not given specific reasons for their expulsion. Also in 2005, Kenneth Good, an Australian-born academic who criticized as undemocratic certain elements of Botswana’s political system, was charged under the NSA and deported; he has not yet been able to return. No cases of journalists being deported for the content of their work were reported in 2006; however, in May a photographer with the weekly newspaper Echo was assaulted by a businessman on trial for rape while he was covering the case’s proceedings in court. The government sometimes censors or otherwise restricts news sources or stories that it finds undesirable, and editorial interference in the state-owned media from the Ministry of Communication, Science, and Technology has increased in recent years. In September, press freedom advocates and opposition political parties condemned a government warning to state-owned media to exercise “maximum patriotic solidarity, collective responsibility, [and] allegiance to country and nation” in reporting about the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Radio Botswana’s popular call-in segment of the morning show Masa-a-sele, suspended in 2003, began broadcasting again in 2006.

Independent print media and radio stations provide vigorous scrutiny of the government and air a wide range of opinions, mostly without government interference. Several independent newspapers and magazines are published in the capital, Gaborone. However, the state-owned Botswana Press Agency dominates the media landscape via its Daily News newspaper and two nationally broadcast FM radio stations; radio remains the chief source of news for the majority of the population. Botswana Television, also owned by the state, is the country’s only source of local television news. Government-controlled media outlets generally confine themselves to coverage that is supportive of official policies and do not adequately cover the activities or viewpoints of opposition parties and other critics. Privately owned radio stations and the sole private television station have a limited reach, particularly within the rural districts; however, Botswana can easily receive broadcasts from neighboring South Africa. The financial viability of Botswana’s independent newspapers is undermined by the fact that the Daily News is distributed nationwide at no cost. Internet access is unrestricted, albeit limited to approximately 3 percent of the population because of poverty and infrastructural constraints.