Report says 'BTV has failed the People'

University of Botswana lecturer and researcher Richard Rooney has poured cold water on the efforts by the government of Botswana to make BTV as well as other government owned radio stations a vehicle for entertainment and education in the country. In a scathing 26 page analysis of Botswana Television, the writer, supported by other impeccable sources in the broadcasting media space depicted a picture of BTV as a failed national TV project. BTV was established in 2000. 

The station is owned and controlled by the state and BTV is the largest television station in the country, but it does not transmit across the whole nation, reaching only about 40 percent of the population. It is also available via the satellite subscription services, DSTV, and can thus theoretically be accessed by viewers with a satellite dish and DSTV decoder throughout the country. 

The only other free-to-air television station, eBotswana, a relation of e.tv in South Africa, is broadcast in the capital city, Gaborone and the surrounding area and current entrants being Maru TV, Now TV, Access TV and eBotswana. Previously the Gaborone Broadcasting Company, relaunched eBotswana in 2010 and then it stated its “vision” was to be “the television channel of choice as well as the best source of entertainment in the country.” eBotswana has since changed ownership again in 2019. 

According to African Barometer Media as quoted in the report, “BTV and Radio Botswana 1 and 2 are run as government departments, within the Office of the President, with staff hired by the Directorate of Public Service Management, as is the case with all government employees. Therefore, the state broadcaster is not accountable to the public. This means in effect BTV is run as an organ of the government and there is no legislation to guarantee the station’s editorial independence from political influence.”

Researcher Richard Rooney says this about the news content on the channel: “To examine the contents of BTV News, a total of 14 bulletins were surveyed over a period starting 6 January 2013 and ending 15 March 2013. The occurrence of “news” is not evenly spread across the week. For example, law courts and government offices tend not to operate at weekends and more sporting events take place on Saturday than any other day of the week. Therefore, one might assume it is less likely that political news will happen and be reported at the weekend when in turn there will be greater opportunities to report sporting activities on Saturday and Sunday. 

To try to minimise bias due to the uneven spread of news occurrences across the week, the 14 days chosen consisted of two bulletins from each day of the week. A purposive sample was used in selecting the dates: that is bulletins were chosen at random until the required total was achieved. Botswana TV News (English version) runs each day Monday to Sunday and is aired at 20.00 hrs. It is scheduled to fit a 30 minute time slot, but in practice during the survey period the programme ran for between 20 and 25 minutes. 

The remaining time in the 30-minute slot was taken up with advertising and/or previews of forthcoming programmes. The news bulletin had a set running order that never changed during the research period. It ran as follows: welcome and news headlines read by announcer; news reports from within Botswana; foreign news reports; stock market and currency reports (Monday to Friday only); sports news; closing headlines read by announcer. The total number of reports broadcast in a bulletin varied between nine and 13. 

Another dent found on the BTV was that it was overloaded with foreign content some of which could not easily appeal to locals. “Its schedule is dominated by foreign programming, which it says includes, “Hollywood blockbuster movies that have proven to be a major hit amongst our viewers”. However, to “grow and nurture local talent”, eBotswana has also produced local shows, “not only serve to provide viewers with locally produced programs but also helps empower the Botswana Television Industry.”

The Botswana Government, through a number of its departments and the Office of the President, has since the station’s launch in the year 2000 identified a number of aims for the station’s news programming. These include the necessity to inform people about events within and outside the country, to interpret such events and whenever possible suggest appropriate approaches to them and to do this by providing balanced, credible and professionally-tailored programmes containing fair and balanced reporting. It must do this while also promoting the policies of the Botswana Government. No substantial research has been undertaken into the programming at BTV (news or otherwise) and this research paper begins to fill the gap in our knowledge. 

In the report, again AMB says “As a state broadcaster, its funding is already infiltrated. The state is adequately funding the state broadcaster, so it has control over it, including its editorial content. This funding does not protect it from arbitrary political interference”. The AMB reported that state television, BTV, continues to push a very one-sided viewpoint (that of government/the ruling party) and it has many repeat programmes and not much diversity.

 Panellists said BTV’s programming is described by viewers as “boring” and “lacking in creativity”. Some 90 percent of BTV’s local offerings are “talking heads” as the station rarely goes into the field to interview people. This could be attributed to stifling of programme content in order to stick to what has been approved and agreed upon prior to airing. 

Again, the AMB report said, “People in rural areas and those from low income groups do not watch BTV because they feel it is not relevant to them.” The news on both state radio and television is particularly unbalanced and single-sourced. “Generally, there is little balance in news and current affairs offered by the state radio and television services, as opposition parties and viewpoints are not given the same platform as the ruling party, which dominates the airwaves.

There is also misleading information and propaganda broadcast on BTV and RB 1 and 2, the report says. BTV News was reportedly given an instruction from State House in 2010 to cover only the president and the vice president as, “they talk about issues of national interest”. 

“Sometimes state media journalists have good intentions, as it is traumatising from the inside, but you can’t strike your stomach.” AMB reported this has led to a general lack of confidence by Batswana in the state broadcaster, resulting in a lot of people not watching or listening to these services. In theory, news on television can give space to people who do not have a place to air their views. But for this to work the reports that appear on television need to be of high quality, relevant and useful to the audience. Television needs to allow the expression of a full range of opinions and matters of public concern. 

 In 2017, the ombudsman accused BTV of being a biased TV channel. This follows a report filed with the Ombudsman by Botswana National Front (BNF) Vice President Dr Prince Dibeela through a letter dated February 15th 2016. According to Ombudsman Augustine Makgonatsotlhe’s report, Dr Dibeela alleged that although it is a public broadcaster and is sustained through the taxes paid by all citizens, whose interest it is supposed to serve, BTV is instead used to serve the interests of the BDP. However, things seemed to have changed drastically for the better in the 2019 elections.  


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