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"Politically sensitive" stories removed from university student newspaper

(MISA/IFEX) - Parties involved in the production of "UB Horizon", a student community newspaper of the University of Botswana, have confirmed to MISA Botswana that at least two articles were removed from the newspaper at the time of printing because they were viewed as "politically sensitive".

The editor of the newspaper, Angela Mdlalani, confirmed to MISA Botswana that two stories about the University's Vice Chancellor were removed by the company engaged to do advertising and marketing, Simply Marketing.

"We were told the reason was that they were politically sensitive, but the stories had passed through the editorial process, which included further sieving by the head of the Department, Prof. David Kerr."

A representative of Simply Marketing, Tendai Butu, confirmed that they had removed the articles, but explained that it was after consultation with the editorial team.

On his part, Prof. Kerr admitted that the issue raises concern about issues of press freedom, but concurred that he was told of the decision. He said there were libel reasons raised and since there was deadline pressure they resolved to shelve the issue until further consultation.

The two articles were about the recent student unrest that culminated in the temporary closure of the institution. One story was a diary of events leading to the closure, while the other captured the call for the Vice Chancellor's resignation by the university academic staff union. The latter article contained interviews from various sectors of the community, including the university management, the union president, a lecturer holding a different view from that of the union and a student.

Simply Marketing has a relationship with a prominent printing company, PPCB, which is owned by the treasurer of the ruling party, Mr Satar Dada.

MISA Botswana views this as a clear editorial interference and calls upon those concerned to review the relationship between the editorial department, management and the advertising company. Political sensitivity is not a good reason to spike a story and editorial independence must be respected by all means possible, the organisation stressed.

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