|6. July 2009
Botswana: BCP Reports Khama to Ombudsman
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) has launched a complaint with the office of the Ombudsman accusing President Ian Khama and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) of abusing the national television station, Btv.
The accusation has come through a letter to the Ombudsman, Ofentse Lepodise. The letter is signed by BCP deputy secretary general, Motsei Rapelana. The BCP wants the department or the ministry of Communications Science and Technology to be investigated by Lepodise.
"We write with respect to a repeated pattern of abuse of office by the Department of Information and Broadcasting and the minister responsible for the department with respect to glaringly disproportionate coverage of political campaigns by various political parties in favour of the BDP," the party states.
It says that Btv's biased coverage of BDP events to the exclusion of all other parties amounts to abuse of office. "We consider this an abuse of office and or maladministration having regard to the fact that the Department of Information and Broadcasting is funded by the public through payment of taxes," the BCP says.
The party says it was prompted to launch a complaint after Khama and his friend Thapelo Olopeng were 'paraded' on national television at a BDP event organised to launch Education Minister and BDP secretary general, Jacob Nkate as a contestant for Ngami constituency.
"In the most bizarre form of abuse of a national television station, the President, the supposed custodian of national resources and values paraded his long time friend and party activist, a certain Olopeng," the letter says.
At the launch Olopeng and Khama called on party members to protect their President (Khama) from attacks by the private media. The video clip in which Olopeng appeared on Btv ran for more than the standard time, BCP says.
"This bizarre act was afforded extended coverage by Btv in a manner that has never been seen before," argues the BCP. The party says Olopeng does not hold any political office in the ruling party but is accorded special television coverage on the basis of his friendship with Khama. Olopeng is a former army man and close friend of Khama.
"Further, the disproportionate coverage of the BDP, more particularly by the Btv is a violation of the freedom of expression as entrenched in the Constitution of Botswana.
This is so because the practice stifles free flow of information with respect to critical vehicles of democracy (political parties) that are registered and lawful. In our view, freedom of expression includes the freedom of the public to receive information without undue restrictions. The injustice in this skewed coverage of critical players in a democracy is denying the public fair coverage to enable them to take informed decisions about their destiny. Furthermore, this amounts to a blatant abuse of trust," says BCP.
The party wants the investigations to commence quickly as the BDP is abusing the state run television ahead of the general elections in three months time. The party also wants the Ombudsman to call the Minister of Communications Science and Technology Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi to give evidence. The BCP wants the results of the probe to be made public. Press secretary to the President, Sipho Madisa was available to comment but Botswana Government Communications and Information System (BGCIS) Coordinator, Jeff Ramsay, said that the BCP was entitled to lay a complaint.
"I'm not aware but they have a right to ask the Ombudsman to investigate," said Ramsay in an interview with Monitor on Saturday. Venson-Moitoi said that she was not aware of the complaint, though she recently had a meeting with BCP vice president, Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang, and Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM) president, Ephraim Setshwaelo, over the same issue. "All I know is that I had a meeting with Gobotswang and Setshwaelo where the issue was discussed," she said.
BDP executive secretary, Dr Comma Serema dismissed the complaint as a campaign strategy by the BCP. "This is not the first time they are rushing to the Ombudsman. They must reinvent and re-engineer their campaign strategy," he stated.
Serema said that his party cannot be blamed for what transpires in the Btv newsroom. "Programming and editing at Btv are not done by the BDP," Serema argued. He said that the BDP was enjoying coverage because it is the biggest political party. "When you see them going to the Ombudsman, then they are predicting BDP victory. They are running scared," he stated.
The BCP has in the past reported Khama to the Ombusdan and succeeded. The BCP had complained that the Khama was piloting the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) jets illegally as he was not licenced to pilot them.