Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Statement by the Minister of Communications,Science and Technology on the Second Reading in Parliament of Bill No 15 of 2008:MEDIA PRACTITIONERS' BILL

source: Republic of Botswana (16/12/08): TAUTONA TIMES no 41 of 2008
The Weekly Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President "Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline"

B4) 10/12/08: Statement by the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology on the Second Reading in Parliament of Bill No 15 of 2008: MEDIA PRACTITIONERS' BILL

1. Honourable Speaker, I presented the Media Practitioner's Bill
during the last meeting of this House. The debate that followed, both in the House and in the public media, bore testimony to the democratic culture and processes that exist in this country, as well as the tradition of consultation. I withdrew the Bill in order to assure myself that absolutely no stone was left unturned to engage with Batswana, and especially the main stakeholders of this Bill, the media fraternity, to give their input into the Bill.

2. Several months have elapsed since I stood in this House and in
that time we have all had an opportunity to reflect on the Bill and to devise ways in which it can be improved. During these few months of reflection, I have continued to receive constructive comments from
colleagues in this House, as well as from individuals. Mr Speaker, it
is with great regret, however that I stand before you to present this Bill for the second time, having not engaged as fully as I would have wished to with some of the key stakeholders in the media industry. I regret to inform this House that the media fraternity, represented by the Press Board and the Publishers Forum, declined to discuss the Bill. They demanded instead that I should withdraw it from the business that is before the House before they could discuss it with me and through various publications they rejected the Bill in its entirety.

3. Mr Speaker, I beg your indulgence to remind this House that the
Bill that I am presenting to this house was the result of several years
of consultation with stakeholders spanning no less than 10 years. The
Media Advisory Committee adopted certain principles that would underpin this Media Practitioners Bill, these are:

* To produce a more overarching media bill that covers all media;
* To produce an enabling bill consistent with international best practice and the treating Botswana has signed and ratified;
* To give the Press Council legal recognition;
* To promote self regulation;
* To promote access to official information;
* To guarantee editorial independence;
* To address the Minister's role; and
* To address right of reply.

Members of the private media have representation on the Media Advisory Committee. In fact my vice chairperson is from the Press Council.

4. This Bill's intention was, and remains, to establish a Media overseer which will monitor the activities of the media and ensure the maintenance of high professional standards. The overseer will provide for the registration and accreditation of resident media practitioners. It was on the request of the members of the current Press Council, which was established by a Deed of Trust that this Bill was crafted to give due recognition to the existence of the Press Council within the Law.

5. Mr Speaker, I have brought this Bill back to the House with the
knowledge that I have exercised my duty to uphold the values that are enshrined in the Constitution of this country. I remain convinced that it is my duty to protect the rights of the media to freedom of expression as articulated in clause 12 of the Constitution.

6. I exercise that duty, Mr Speaker, in recognition of clause 3 of
our Constitution which, requires us all to ensure that the freedoms enjoyed by one section of the population should not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others, and the public interest. In particular, Clause 12 secures protection of individual privacy.

7. This Bill is premised on the principle of self-regulation of the
media. Editorial independence has been guaranteed to ensure free flow in the delivery of information by the media. The Code of Ethics adopted in this Bill as produced by the Press Council of Botswana. Honourable Members will recall that I presented it to an all party caucus before I adopted it for use in the government media. I did this because I am convinced that the document is a commendable product. Amongst the resolutions of Media Advisory Committee was one that demanded that all media houses produce their own editorial policies and make them known to the public. All of these steps are acceptable worldwide as a good basis for self regulation of a free media. It is purely on the basis of these unprecedented legal and administrative undertaking that I am convinced that government has fulfilled one part of its obligation to freedom of expression.

8. It is in my effort to manage the other part, which is the right
of individuals to privacy that I have insisted on ensuring that the rights of those who might feel offended by any action of the media should also be guaranteed access to mediation structures that are not under the direct control of the media. The Bill introduces and protects the public by granting the Right to Reply. This, Honourable members can only help further improve on the professional conduct expected of media practitioners.

9. Mr. Speaker, in spite of the refusal of the appointed
representatives of the media to meet with me and my staff in order to address their concerns regarding this draft law, our commitment to democracy motivated me nevertheless to examine their points of view and to take on board those that will enrich this legislation and which are consistent with the principles of the Constitution of this country.

10. Currently, Mr Speaker, the registration and accreditation of
media practitioners is a function that is executed by a government department. Clause 6 proposes to hand this function over to the media. It is my belief that in a self-regulated environment, it makes sense that the media be responsible for the maintenance of the membership records since they are in a better position to determine acceptable qualifications from time to time. This function will be extended to include the accreditation of local journalists.

11. I also included the request of the stakeholders to make a
provision to protect media practitioners from political influence. Clause 4 of this Bill provides for the independence of the Council from Government and from any political party.

12. Mr Speaker, I take this opportunity to highlight other salient
parts of the Bill.

13. My original intent was to adopt the existing Press Council of
Botswana in the operations of this Bill, but due to their unwillingness to be part of this document, I will have to move amendments at the committee stage to ensure that they are not included. It is still my wish that once the bill is in operation and the current apprehensions that surround it have been allayed, the Press Council will review their current stance.

Contents of the Bill

14. The main objectives of the Media Practitioner's Bill at Clause
3, are to establish a media council which will monitor the activities of the media and ensure the maintenance of high professional standards, and to provide for the registration and accreditation of resident media practitioners.

15. Freedom of the Press and self-regulation are guaranteed at
clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill.

16. At clauses 3 and 17, the Bill also provides for the
establishment of the Complaints Committee and the Appeals Committee whose main functions are to adjudicate on complaints brought by members of the public about any particular publication. The Complaints and Appeals Committee are empowered to administer appropriate disciplinary measures and impose sanctions, where necessary, in order to promote an atmosphere of accountability, mutual trust and respect between media practitioners and the public.

17. The Bill also provides for the appointment of the Chief
Executive and other staff of the Council at clause 24 who shall deal with the day to day management of the Council. Also specified in the Bill are provisions for meetings which are to be held by the Council, including the quorum and the procedure for convening such meetings.

18. At clauses 32 and 33, the Bill has also made provisions relating
to the funds and financial year of the Council. It also deals with the Executive Committee's regulation-making powers, as well as the Minister's power to make regulations by statutory instrument.

19. I hasten to explain that I have chosen to present the Bill
without attaching the consequential regulations, in order to permit flexibility in further consultations with all stakeholders.

20. Honourable Speaker, the Bill addresses all these issues, and
goes further to recognise the Media Code of Ethics which would have been drawn by the media itself. The Bill sets up a media council; it promotes regulation; it guarantees editorial independence; and further protects the public by granting the Right of Reply.

21. I urge all stakeholders to adopt it in the spirit in which it is

22. Honourable Speaker, I therefore beg to move that the Media
Practitioners Bill, 2008 Bill (No. 15 of 2008) be read a second time. I thank you Mr Speaker.

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