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Govt says state media gets people’s vote

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

State-owned broadcast media in Botswana is getting a thumbs up from the general public, who prefer information from the government news portal to independent media and the internet.

During the recent debate in Parliament on the status of the Department of Broadcasting Services (DBS) it was observed that the media outlets falling under the said Department,  Botswana Television (BTV), Radio Botswana Chanel 2 (RB2) and Radio Botswana (RB1), enjoy the highest levels of domestic public confidence.

The point was made by the Mokgweetsi Masisi, as the Minister responsible, who further reported that a 2012 public perception survey, based on a representative sample, had found that 74% of Batswana trust DBS media to provide them with credible news and information.

The same survey reveals that “the public trust levels for our state supported news media in general, that is the Daily News as well as BTV, RB2 and Radio Botswana, remain higher than the corresponding figures for the private press, both electronic and in print.”

the Minister had further observed that the 74% trust rating in DBS means that public confidence in his Department is among the highest in the world. In this respect it compares favourably with European public broadcasters who are often cited as global benchmarks.

Further quantitative support for Masisi's statement can be found in the Centre for International Media Ethics (CIME) 2011 Public Trust Survey of global media, which was released this month. The CIME Survey found that the majority of people on all continents were skeptical of their broadcast news, with an average of no more than 9% of those surveyed on any continent expressing "a lot of trust" in their TV news and 12% in their radio news. By contrast 51% of Batswana in the domestic survey expressed "a lot of trust" in DBS current affairs.

The positive numbers for BTV and Radio Botswana should not come as a complete shock, as they are consistent with past surveys that together suggest longstanding institutional trust in DBS among Batswana. In this respect a 2005 public perception survey, which asked the same questions as the 2012 survey, found 72% trust in DBS, with 44% then expressing "a lot of trust." Whereas 7% claimed to have no trust in DBS media in 2005, the corresponding figure for 2012 was less than 1%.

In other words, notwithstanding the intensity of negative criticism that both BTV and Radio Botswana news have been subjected to from some quarters in recent years, their public confidence levels have modestly strengthened.

One thing that has changed, however, is the remarkable growth of TV viewership. Whereas in 2005 43% of Batswana sourced their news from television at least a few times a week, with 27% watching TV news on a daily basis, in 2012 the weekly figure has risen to 92% with a massive 70% getting their news daily from TV.

The 2012 Survey further reports that TV is the preferred source of news for 38% of Batswana, followed by 33% for radio, 17% for newspapers and 11% for the internet.

In the words of Minister Masisi at Parliament: "We have a public broadcaster that operates by certain rules, we have programmes in place, and it has served us well." 

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