28 November 2001

BOTSWANA: Law to control newspapers coming

Journalists working in Botswana could face jail sentences if they cover stories without being accredited by a government agency, if a Bill to control newspapers becomes law. The government has given the media industry two weeks to study the resurrected 1997 Mass Media Communications Bill, which in spite of its name, only aims to control newspapers and possibly other print media. The controversial Bill caused an outcry in 1997 when the then Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, tried to bring it before parliament. Following intensive lobbying by the media and civil organisations, as well as international human rights organisations and media, the aspect of the Bill that concerned newspapers was dropped.

Members of the Media Advisory Council (MAC) were taken by surprise therefore when the Bill suddenly appeared on the agenda of the meeting of the Council. The Bill provides for total control of newspapers by the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration. Under the proposed law the Minister will nominate a registrar who will have power to register all newspapers after they have provided their full particulars, including a statement of accounts setting out financial resources for printing and publishing. Police are empowered to search and seize newspapers which they suspect may have been published in contravention of the law. „Any police officer of the rank of inspector or above may seize any publication or newspaper, wherever found, which has printed or published, or which he reasonably suspects has been printed or published in contravention of this part," reads Section 13 (1) of the Bill. The police will also be able to enter and search newspaper premises and seize whatever they suspect contravenes the law.

No local or foreign journalists will be allowed to cover stories unless they have been given permission to do so by the government through the Director of the Department of Information and Broadcasting who will issue them with Press Cards. The Bill provides for imprisonment of up to three years for breaking the law. (THE BOTSWANA GAZETTE)

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