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Botswana: Controversial New Media Law Adopted

(Feb. 2, 2009) On December 31, 2008, the Government of Botswana gazetted the Media Practitioners Law, to which it had assented on December 22, even though legislators had sought to amend it, and it had been expected to undergo more scrutiny in parliamentary committees before being made official. The Law purportedly seeks to “preserve media freedom and promote good ethical standards” and “'monitor the activities of the media' and create a body to 'receive any complaints directed against media practitioners.'” (Sello Motseta, Botswana's Government Defends New Media Law, ASSOCIATED PRESS WORLDSTREAM, Jan. 23, 2009, LEXIS/NEXIS, News Library, 90days File.) Under the Law, a Media Council will be established, even though there was already a Press Council in Botswana that was independent and self-regulated. The Minister of Communications will appoint the Council's chief executive as well as the members of the complaints and appeals committees. The Minister also has the power to dissolve the executive committee. The Law stipulates that media practitioners must be registered; those who fail to do so and to be accredited with the Media Council may be subject to a fine of up to P5,000 (about US$630) or three years' imprisonment. (Id.)

Thapeto Ndlovu, national director of the Media Institute of South Africa (MISA)-Botswana chapter, a media rights organization, has called the Law “very repressive,” and MISA-Botswana plans to continue to lobby against it. (Id.; Government Passes Repressive Media Law, AFRICA NEWS, Jan. 16, 2009, LEXIS/NEXIS, News Library, 90days File.)