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Botswana10 August 2004

Minister interferes again in editorial policy of state news media

A decision by Botswana’s communication, science and technology minister, Boyce (JPEG) Sebeleta (photo), to drop the "Political Profiles" section from the state-owned Daily News and the press review from the state-owned Radio Botswana was "unacceptable meddling," Reporters Without Borders said today.

"This meddling in the editorial policies of these media is all the more unacceptable as it seriously weakens news diversity, because the two sections that have been eliminated offered a forum to the opposition in the first case and the privately-owned press in the second," the organisation said.

"This is not the first time that Sebeleta has initiated such acts of censorship with the aim of silencing anyone criticising the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)," Reporters Without Borders continued. Such abuses were "really worrying" in what was one of Africa’s most open countries as regards press freedom," it added.

Over the years, "Political Profiles" had become one of the mainstay’s of The Daily News, which is distributed free of charge. No explanation accompanied Sebeleta’s orders to drop it. Director of Information services Bapasi Mphusu has said its elimination is just temporary and that it was dictated by the need to modernise.

But that is questioned by the opposition, which thinks the government is just trying to prevent it from having a voice in the country’s most widely-read newspaper two months before legislative elections.

The jettisoning of Radio Botswana’s press review, which gave a lot of space to the privately-owned media, is seen as new evidence that the communication minister wants to gag independent newspapers. The Daily News used to be financed entirely by the government, but Sebeleta ordered it to start taking advertising last year and thereby compete with the privately-owned press. The editor of a local weekly said at the time: "We depend totally on advertising revenue to survive so this change will kill off alternative voices."

Another Radio Botswana programme, "Masa-a-sele," which let listeners express their views on current affairs, was dropped at the end of last year. Sebeleta said it gave too much space to criticism of the ruling BDP.

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