Freedom of the Press

Botswana

Freedom of the Press 2016
Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Political Environment: 
19 / 40
(0=BEST, 40=WORST)
Economic Environment: 
14 / 30 (↓1)
(0=BEST, 30=WORST)
Press Freedom Score: 
45 / 30 (↓1)
(0=BEST, 100=WORST)

Quick Facts

Population: 
2,139,900
Freedom in the World Status: 
Free
Internet Penetration Rate: 
18.5%

Overview

Botswana’s media environment continued to deteriorate in 2015. A number of legal cases were initiated against journalists during the year, while in January, a cyberattack against an independent newspaper destroyed more than a decade’s worth of its archived data. Botswana remains without an access to information law.

 

Key Developments

  • In May 2015, three journalists were arrested and charged with the unlawful disclosure of information in connection with a story linking government officials to illegal oil and diamond deals.
  • In March, lawmakers voted to reject a freedom of information bill that had been introduced to the parliament.
  • The same month, the independent newspaper Mmegi reported that a presidential aide had confirmed a long-suspected government policy of not advertising with various private media outlets. The official described the policy as a cost-cutting measure, though Mmegi noted that the outlets in question tended to report critically on the government.
  • In January, a cyberattack against Mmegi destroyed 12 years’ worth of its archived data. Its editor alleged that the attack had been perpetrated by the security services in retaliation for a story unflattering to the security service’s director.

 

Legal Environment: 12 / 30

Although press freedom is not explicitly guaranteed in the constitution, clauses safeguarding freedoms of speech and expression undergird extensive legal protections for media outlets. The constitution contains a number of provisions concerning national security, public order, and public morality that can be used to limit press freedom.

Journalists continued to face lawsuits in connection with their work in 2015. Three journalists with the Botswana Gazette were arrested in May in connection with a story that linked members of Botswana’s ruling party to alleged illegal oil and diamond deals. The Botswana Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC) also reportedly visited the paper’s offices and threatened to seize its computers. Though the journalists were released, one reporter was charged under Section 44 of the DCEC Act with unlawfully disclosing information relating to an ongoing investigation, and could face a year in prison and a fine of 2,000 pula ($200).

In 2014, the sedition law was invoked against Outsa Mokone, editor of the Sunday Standard. Mokone was arrested and charged with sedition after the paper published a story claiming that President Ian Khama had been involved in a road accident in his private vehicle. In May 2015, Mokone sued the government over the legality of his detention over a period of two days in 2014. Both cases were pending at year’s end.

Defamation is both a civil and criminal offense. In past years civil defamation suits by public officials and others have been a problem for journalists, and although some cases are eventually dropped or dismissed, the lengthy trials and associated legal costs pose a threat to journalism. In March 2015, tabloid journalist Daniel Kenosi was arrested and charged with defamation and the unlawful distribution of obscene material under Section 16 of the Cybercrime and Related Crimes Act, in connection with social media posts implicating a government minister in a sex scandal. He is reportedly the first person to be charged under the cybercrime law. The Botswana chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) urged the prosecution to withdraw the charges against Kenosi, saying the cybercrime law’s provisions violate freedom of expression as guaranteed in the constitution. Separately, in November, three journalists from the Sunday Mail were arrested for “communicating false statements prejudicial to the state” for a story that linked police and park officials to the poisoning of dozens of elephants.

Access to public information remains a major problem for journalists. Lawmakers from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) rejected a freedom of information bill in March 2015; the country’s minister of presidential affairs and public administration, upon the bill’s failure to clear the parliament, stated that the government had secrets to keep.

Parallel media regulatory regimes exist—one statutory and one self-regulatory. The 2008 Media Practitioners Act establishes a statutory media oversight body which enables the minister of communication to exert significant influence over a new Media Council’s handling of complaints against journalists. However, the act has not entered into force due to a legal challenge by media outlets, nongovernmental organizations, and trade unions. A ruling on the law’s constitutionality was pending in 2015. The Press Council of Botswana is made up of independent media workers and operates its own self-regulatory Media Complaints Committee.

The Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) began operating in 2013. BOCRA and its founding act have been criticized for not allowing the registration of community radio licenses.

 

Political Environment: 19 / 40

State-owned outlets have been accused of acting as mouthpieces for the ruling party. A number of private outlets report critically on the government.

Fear of reprisals for coverage that is critical of the government has reportedly led to increased self-censorship. Commercial interests have also led to increases in self-censorship, and some outlets have reportedly suppressed articles for fear of losing advertising contracts with the government or large businesses.

The alleged use of the intelligence services to intimidate and spy on journalists and others is a growing concern. In January 2015, Mmegi, the only private daily newspaper in Botswana, experienced a cyberattack that destroyed 12 years of archived data. Its editor claimed that the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) had perpetrated the attack in response to a 2012 article that raised questions about DISS director Isaac Kgosi’s personal finances.

Physical attacks on journalists are rare in Botswana, and no serious incidents were reported in 2015. However, journalists sometimes face interference while working. In May 2015, a union leader interrupted a speech to workers at a rally in Selebi Phikwe to berate a journalist with the state broadcaster, and to demand that he switch off his camera. The union official alleged that the public broadcaster typically ignored union activities and implied that it was biased toward President Khama. A number of other journalists covering the event left in protest of the union leader’s actions.

 

Economic Environment: 14 / 30 (↓1)

State-owned outlets dominate the broadcast media, which reach far more residents than the print media but provide inadequate access to the opposition and government critics. The private Gaborone Broadcasting Corporation television system and two private radio stations have limited reach. Botswana easily receives broadcasts from neighboring South Africa.

Internet access is rare outside cities. An estimated 28 percent of the population used the medium in 2015, and the government does not restrict access.

A range of independent newspapers and magazines espousing a variety of views are published in the capital. The widest-circulating newspaper, the state-owned Daily News, is free to readers and is generally the only newspaper available in rural areas. High printing costs and limited distribution networks mean that independent papers usually have modest pressruns.

The media relies heavily on advertising. In March 2015, Mmegi reported that a presidential aide confirmed that the government had indeed prohibited all departments and state-owned enterprises from advertising with a number of private newspapers and radio stations; Mmegi noted that the affected outlets reported critically on the government. Upon confirming the policy, the aide reportedly described it as a cost-cutting measure.