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News media publishers decline invitation to participate in state media council

(MISA/IFEX) - News media publishers gathered on 10 March 2009 and resolved not to respond to the current invitations from the government regarding the formation of the Interim Committee of the Media Council as dictated by the newly enacted Media Practitioners Act.

MISA Botswana, which was in attendance and facilitated the meeting, sympathises with the publishers. The publishers indicated that the executive committee of the media council would be the driving force behind the contested law, which compromises freedom of expression.

The media stakeholders, who included all the major mainstream news publishers, and MISA Botswana further resolved to seek redress from the courts should the government insist on their registration with the council. MISA Botswana therefore supports any court action initiated by the media stakeholders regarding the law.

It is MISA Botswana's position that registration of media practitioners is unlawful, both in terms of the national constitution as well as international agreements that the country recognizes. There are other areas in the law, which are contrary to the expectations of the constitution regarding freedom of expression, but registration remains the most explicit violation.

The public is further asked to understand the media stakeholders' position regarding not participating in the current process. It is the view of the publishers and MISA Botswana that giving legitimacy to the wrong, albeit legal, process may set a bad precedence and inflicts pain on existing civil liberties and constitutional rights.

The government must recognize the dangers obvious in the Media Practitioners Act. International opinion seems to support MISA Botswana's view that the law is detrimental to freedom of expression and others such as freedom of association.

MISA Botswana therefore encourages Batswana, the publishers and media practitioners in general to tread carefully when dealing with the new act. The public is basing their hopes on the media stakeholders to protect its (public) interest and guard against infringements of rights.

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