Botswana | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Botswana

Botswana

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

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

36

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

17

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, 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 1986 National Security Act (NSA) has been used to restrict reporting on government activities. A 2006 draft version of the Botswana broadcasting bill was debated by the National Assembly during the year. The bill includes plans to establish a new community broadcasting sector 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. In fact, a draft Mass Media Communications Bill (2001) that is due to appear before Parliament would further limit journalists’ abilities to access government information.

Journalists are occasionally threatened, harassed, or attacked in retaliation for their reporting. In 2005, the government employed immigration legislation to deport two Zimbabwean journalists who had criticized state policies and used the NSA to deport an Australian-born academic who criticized the country as undemocratic. In March 2007, seven foreign journalists who had written critically about the government were forced to apply for visas despite being citizens of countries where Botswana visas are not required. The government occasionally 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 July, press freedom organizations condemned a ministry announcement that journalists who did not report “correctly” risked losing their licenses. In August, the editor of the independent Tswana Times claimed that the state’s Botswana Telecommunications Corporation withdrew advertisements from the paper in retaliation for a critical story.

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 free 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. Privately owned radio stations and a private television station have a limited reach, particularly within rural districts; however, Botswana can easily receive broadcasts from neighboring South Africa. Government-controlled media 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. Some private media companies have claimed that the government has cut back on its advertising with outlets that fail to cover the administration in a favorable light. In general, financially viable news sources available in languages other than English are rare. Internet access is unrestricted, albeit limited to approximately 3 percent of the population because of income and infrastructural constraints.