National Policy on Broadcasting remains Botswana government’s top priority

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

As 2018 comes to an eclipse, the country of Botswana has seen a raft of regulatory suggestions come and go in the ICT space. A lot has been suggested especially after the Facebook saga that saw the leadership at the social media giant appearing before legislators both in the US and Europe. In light of this rude awakening, nations the world over have revisited their IT laws, some like Uganda, at the detriment of losing the trust of their citizens.

During a recent broadcasting conference that was put together by the Botswana Communications Regulation Authority (BOCRA), the minister, who was the guest of honour, spoke of the need for a policy and a variety of other relevant issues. Many suggestions were put forth by concerned stakeholders on new approaches to be taken by the government and other interested stakeholders. The theme for this year’s broadcasting conference was: “The future of broadcasting in the era of emerging technologies”. 

Speaking to the attendees, Onkokame Kitso Mokaila, Minister of Transport and Communications, said “The importance of media in our country cannot be over emphasised. Media constitute a very important pillar of our democratic process. Our National Vision 2036 espouses Prosperity for All and the media is an integral component of this ideal. Media is critical in our concerted efforts to create a knowledge base, and to promote freedom of expression as such, among others, the media will continue to provide effective oversight on the performance of other arms of government.” 

For the longest time, the nation of Botswana has been heavily reliant on its vast mining sector for revenue. The prevailing status quo is that efforts are being made to move the revenue streams from Diamonds. As the government of Botswana aims to diversify the economy away from minerals, it is pre-disposed to exploiting the potential that communications technologies, including broadcasting, offer in creating employment and facilitating innovation. Currently, the commercial broadcasting licensees have employed 384 youth, one of them being Maru TV, a youthful channel on DSTV channel 291 which has so far recruited about 18 youths. With government efforts of institutions of learning churning thousands of graduates annually; there is need to create an environment for employment.

“In our continued efforts to increase the contribution of the broadcasting sector to the national economy, the government recently created a television youth channel that is expected to increase demand for local content-- thereby facilitating growth of the creative sector.”

Speaking on the government’s efforts to regulate and harmonise the activities of the broadcasting sector, the minister said; “My ministry is also working with the Attorney General’s Office to finalise the Communications Regulatory Authority Act Regulations.  Consultations with all stakeholders have been held, and work is in progress to finalise the regulations by December 2018--in order to provide a more predictable and transparent regulatory environment. Government is also alive to the reality that a national policy on broadcasting is necessary; in order to guide the development of a competitive broadcasting sector, which reliably offers diversity and plurality of choice. To this end, a National Policy on Broadcasting remains among key priorities for my ministry.

Our objective, as government, is to ensure that all citizens have access to information: regardless of their geographic location or socio-economic status. In this context, it is recognised that the future of broadcasting lies in the provision and utilisation of broadband services. To this end, we have established the Universal Service and Access Fund (UASF), whose primary aim is to facilitate the roll out of broadband and other broadcasting services beyond major cities and villages.” The minister lamented the fact the some sections of the sector have not benefited from the fund as a result of some technical issues.  “It is just so much of a pity that the commercial broadcasters have not been able to benefit from this Fund, apparently because of an inexplicable inability to agree on a common project to be funded. It is important that we be very open with each other, when dealing with issues, which create obstacles for everyone. What I site regarding the UASF, above is just one example.

Let me reiterate that consumer expectations, coupled with the ever-changing technologies continue to change the broadcasting landscape. In this globalized world, consumers require diversity and entertainment, information and participation at a local and international level. Clearly traditional broadcasting alone will not satisfy these demands.

The theme of this Conference, “The future of broadcasting in the era of emerging technologies”, reminds us, as a sector, to adapt or perish. Let us all be reminded that we live in an era of constant change with abundant opportunities.     It is therefore opportune that we are meeting at this time—just after the government took the bold and necessary step of promoting and facilitating infrastructure sharing towards our collective relevance and survival,” added the minister.

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