Reporters without Borders (RSF) has ranked Botswana the 39th country in its World Press Freedom Index (WPFI)in 2020 out of 180 countries, recording an improvement of five places compared to 2019.
Botswana obtained a global score of 23.56 points in the 2020 WPFI, unlike 25.06 in 2019. To understand the index, the lowest points reflect a perfect score. The -1.53 drop, considered an improvement, comes after President Mokgweetsi Masisi opened up to the media, unlike his predecessor Ian Khama, by way of frequent media appearances, according to the 2019 WFPI.
Published every year since 2002 by RSF, the WPFI ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists. RSF is the world’s biggest NGO specialising in the defence of media freedom.
In 2019, Botswana climbed four places in the WPFI to position 44 out of 180 countries from position 48 the previous year when Khama was president. RSF observed that the former president’s tenure hampered press freedom, citing investigative journalists’ arrests and newspaper cyber-attacks. Botswana fell eight places in the index between 2013 and 2018. Despite this, the Paris-based NGO noticed that in 2019 and 2020 “press freedom violations declined under Khama’s successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi, who has at least given frequent press conferences. By contrast, Khama, gave none during his ten years as president.
“Nonetheless, there is still no law on access to information, which journalists have long been demanding. State-owned media still falls far short of providing a public news service and continues to be under the government’s sway, to the point that they are now directly supervised from the president’s office.
The few privately-owned newspapers depend on advertising that they may or may not receive from the state. Journalists say their freedom to inform is restricted by the 2008 Media Practitioners Act (MPA) and many other laws,” RSF observed.
Of the laws that hinder media freedom, The Whistleblowing Act of 2016 excludes the media as an institution in which impropriety can be disclosed to. Not only is this plucking out the teeth of local media, but it also cripples investigative journalism. Tefo Phatshwane, National Director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Botswana agrees that media freedom and expression in Botswana improved last year.
“The current administration seems to be more open than the previous one. The president holds press conferences, which was not the case before,” he affirmed. “Even though the press conferences are more like a “ticking the boxes” initiative”, he warned, “they are however more accommodating.”
Phatshwane said what matters the most is the law, which he claims the government is stalling on.
“We are still very backwards and non-progressive. There has been no law passed that gives the media more freedom or enhancement.”
Recollecting BDP’S rejection of a motion calling for the repeal of the 2008 MPA, Phatshwane referred to the law as a dark cloud hanging over the media fraternity whose implementation would bury Botswana’s democracy.
Quizzed on whether the WPFRI is representative of media freedom in Botswana, he said;
“The playing ground in Botswana is nothing to be an exemplary about.”
Phatshwane mentioned that Botswana’s laws are not enabling, and they criminalise journalism in a country known to be a beacon of democracy.
“I think this tag has long expired. We have been surpassed by new democracies such as South Africa and Namibia which have laws that protect the fourth estate,” he said.
Namibia was the highest-ranking country in Africa and the 23rd in the 2020 WPFI. Last year, Botswana and Canada joined forces to co-host the second edition of the Global Conference for Media Freedom.