Botswana television (BTV) negotiating control and cultural production in a globalising context : a political economy of media state ownership in Africa.
Mosime, Sethunya Tshepho.
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Botswana is considered an exemplary democracy in Africa. It is imperative to assess how an enviable democracy could flourish when the most widely available mass media was not independent. The fact is, despite the fact that media has been at the heart of development in Botswana, it has often been ignored in local academic and popular discussions about democracy and governance. A 1994 seminar on the media in a democracy organized by the Mmegi Publishing Trust (Leepile, 1994), was one of the very few forums where the role of the media in Botswana was given any attention. Even then, most the presentations were not substantive, mainly providing basic information about media institutions in Botswana and laws that protect and threaten freedom of the media. Botswana's contemporary state - media nexus can only be understood within the context of a long history of media dependence and domination by neighbouring South Africa (Zaffiro, 1991) assisted by British colonisation. To appreciate the challenges of cultural production at Botswana Television (BTV) required a study of the problematic encounter between the quest for creative and professional freedom within BTV on the one hand,·and the authoritarian gaze of state power on the other hand. BTV operated under an ill-defined broadcasting model, of a state bureaucratic arm, attempting to fulfil the ethos of public service broadcasting. Through the lens of the Newsroom, in-house productions, commissioning and procurement of foreign and local content, the study shows the subtle ways in which state ownership of the media compromises freedom of expression and freedom of information in Botswana. Yet, Botswana continued to enjoy that status of Africa's exemplar of democracy. Good governance indicators consistently gave media in Botswana cursory attention, thereby reinforcing state authoritarianism in Botswana. With a media dominated by state power, Botswana still emerged as exemplary. This complicated the quest for the ideal communication environment towards democratization in the Third World, particularly in a globalizing context. In situations such as that of Botswana, where the institutions that should protect the media from government control are either absent or weak, universal ideals on media freedom are often not enough. Media practitioners are more likely to find support in the local discourses, repertoires and cultures that call upon all, regardless of status, to tolerate opposition. A local tradition of the kgotla in particular, often heralded as Botswana's indigenous form of democracy, is placed in this chapter, at the heart of much of the freedom, limited as it may be, that BTV enjoyed.