Fire Jeff Ramsay for the term “Fake News”
This term gained usage following the ascendency of American President Donald Trump. While the concern behind its usage is part of a necessary debate about the need for the media to report truthfully, fairly and in a balanced manner, it has a dark, anti-democratic ideological application which seeks to discredit genuine journalistic work. MISA acknowledges that journalists make mistakes in their work sometimes, however, we argue that while mistakes are never defensible especially where due diligence has not been done, many mistakes journalists make on duty are made in genuine pursuit of the truth.
People who are subjects of news stories reserve the right to debate the media and refute its reports if they have credible information contrary to what is carried. If the media is wrong, aggrieved parties have several recourses which include the right of reply, retraction as well as defamation suits, especially where there is calculated mischief to tarnish subjects of the story for un-journalistic reasons: However, where media houses and media practitioners genuinely do their job in the public interest, it is not only morally bankrupt for their work to be termed “Fake News” as Government Spokesperson Jeff Ramsay recently did regarding a story carried by The Botswana Gazette- but is also a tyrannical attempt to silence divergent views and scrutiny.
MISA is aware that the term is more often than not used by people who are irritated that the media is asking them hard and necessary questions. However, actors who spread fake (untruthful and fictitious) content serve a totally different role than what journalists do. These actors are often not journalists and only serve criminal ends that have nothing to do with doing work in the public interest and for transparency or accountability, like genuine journalists do.
It is for this reason that we call on President Masisi to dissuade the usage of this dark term within his government, especially by people ducking their responsibility to account to Batswana.
We also urge President Masisi on a serious note to consider replacing Jeff Ramsay because he is one of the people from the Khama administration who helped cultivate a culture of unaccountability which comes with acerbic language and phrases like “Fake News” which are designed to de-motivate the media from asking difficult questions, especially about specific unethical conduct of government officials.
Ramsay has overstayed his welcome at the communication service and serves no useful role except to put strain on government and media relations.
EDITORIAL FREEDOM AT MASS MEDIA
We encourage government under President Masisi to allow our colleagues at RB1, RB2, Botswana Television, Daily News and Kutlwano the freedom to do their job without fear or inhibition. MISA implores government to change state media into public media and allow journalists all the editorial independence necessary to serve the public equally and without political influence as has been the case under previous administrations. Media workers at Mass Media are trained, competent professionals and should not be reduced to propaganda tools. This will also grow democracy in Botswana and encourage Batswana to trust the current and future governments as they would not only be transparent but also reflect the diversity of views, cultures and languages that make this country one of Africa’s best democratic nations.
NB: This statement is an excerpt of MISA-Botswana World Press Freedom Day 2018 Statement.