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‘Cry our Beloved PRESS COUNCIL’

The Press Council of Botswana is moribund unable to create a conducive and viable environment for the current group whose term of office expired towards the end of last year, to exit the stage with their dignity and integrity intact. Despite the passing of time the impasse shows no sign of being resolved effectively undermining the efforts of those who established PCB in the first place.

I say this tongue in cheek because the PCB Annual General Meeting ought to have been held during November/December 2016 – this sadly has not happened for a number of reasons. One of the key issues, is that PCB wanted to audit its books prior to AGM as prescribed by founding document.

Sadly this has not happened despite the fact that KPMG offered after I approached them to do a Pro Bono audit of PCB financials. The initial sticking point was the failure to provide PCB trial balances to auditors after the former executive secretary refused to co-operate with the process.

Subsequently for reasons which I cannot understand the Board has been unable/unwilling to provide KPMG with a full trial balance. The person assigned to undertake this process for PCB Aubrey Lute, who is also doubles as the Publisher of the Weekend Post, is a signatory on the PCB bank account and so is privy to the necessary information surrounding PCB financials.

Some of us – I speak especially for myself - are in the dark over our financials given that during the 3 years i have sat on the board, no management accounts have been brought to us for approval or consideration. That is why I took the initiative to identify auditors to do PCB due diligence.

There were offers of funding by benevolent donors but it was stipulated to us that we need to audit PCB books before we can expect to receive any financial support. This would have allowed us to leave office with our heads held high and pass on the baton to peers to continue the struggle.

There have also been donations to PCB by benevolent well wishers which Board needs to verify and ensure was above board. For example, a donation of P100,000 which was allegedly raised by Acting Chairperson Aubrey Lute, that was apparently appropriated in part by former PCB ES.

This digression is significant because the source of the donation according to ‘whistle-blower’ was an organization/business trying to buy  media silence for non-publication of a story on UB tender won by Boitekanelo Catering Services . It was therefore imperative to lay these ghosts to rest before we walked off the stage.

During a meeting of the Press Council Board we were told that the trial balance is proving to be very  difficult to complete because of the missing information that got “lost” with former ES’s laptop allegedly lost during a break in at her house. Over a year later we still have not made progress and my peers on Press Council Board appear indifferent and unconcerned.

Efforts to facilitate process have also been fruitless and unhelpful. Without trying to sound malicious it seems to me that the exercise is not being taken seriously by key stakeholders on the Press Council Board for reasons best known to themselves.

This is depressing because it shows a lack of accountability that I find profoundly disturbing. Peter Desbarats has written that "the whole question of accountability remains one of the great unresolved issues of contemporary journalism.” One difficulty in resolving the issue is the fact that scholars and journalists lack an adequate understanding of accountability.

"The discussion of media accountability," the editors of a book on accountability so eloquently put it, "remains in a conceptual muddle." I find myself concurring based on my experiences at the Press Council Board – some of my peers are quite happy to write sensational stories about financial malpractices in various areas of corporate/public life – but are quite happy to live in glass houses.

The result of this negligent behaviour is that a well meaning public is denied a vehicle to remonstrate about what is written about them in the private media without pursuing the very costly and tedious litigious route. Although I must confess that it is unclear whether this prolonged frustration of the operations of the Press Council of Botswana is deliberate and malicious.

I say this because at a Media Pisto at Botswana Craft on 23rd April 2016 that was organized by the Voice Publisher, Beata Kasale I was asked to read a speech for the acting Chairperson of the PCB Aubrey Lute. In speech crafted by Lute, it was averred that:

We wish to share with other bodies like the Publishers Forum, Editors Forum and BOMAWU the need to accredit local journalists. At the Press Council of Botswana we are of the view that a standard practice like that adopted by the Law Society of Botswana where new entrants sit for a bar exam should be explored.”

Lute made this proposal without any consultation with the Board. No meeting I have been to - and I have been to all of them made such a deliberation. This proposal was also shocking to me because of the environment we operate in and fears about the capture of the private media.

Without wanting to go into panic mode I am imploring my colleagues in the private media to prevail on my peers at the Press Council Board to facilitate an audit of Press Council Board. Our reputation and well being demands no less. If we fail to engage them assertively – history will judge us harshly.

 

Sello Motseta, is a Board Member of PCB and writes in his personal capacity

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