The departed former vice president and founding commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) has joined a bandwagon of politicians who have launched a scathing attack on the private media. In his recently released autobiography titled The General: In service of my Country Merafhe narrates at length his battles not only with political opponents but also with the Fourth Estate at large.
He states that the press scarcely practised what it professed as it lacked accuracy, objectivity, fairness and impartiality. He goes on to accuse the media for allowing itself to be infiltrated by politicians and people with questionable characters. He reiterates that the press has been unwittingly hijacked by polemicists who are eager to use it as a platform for political activism. General Merafhe does not mince his words as he goes on to say that the media menaced rather than empathised and shaped rather than reflected opinion.
It is for the aforementioned reasons that General Merafhe threw his full weight behind the now ineffectual Media Practitioners Act of 2008. He contends that as much as he cherishes a flourishing press, there is need on part of the government to ensure that the public interest is secured. He adds that if the Fourth Estate does not want to be regulated and enjoy unrestricted freedom, the ball was in its court. The General labels the media as a tenaciously subversive force that is reluctant to stay true to the canons of fair play. One thing, he notes, is that the media is fond of sensational and hair-rising reporting with an intention to spark somewhat public outcry and instil acrimonious relationship between the government and people. Along the way, he makes a U-turn and admits that the media wields enormous power in the political realm and it is a shadow government on its own. He maintains that despite their divergent missions, media and politics share a symbiotic relationship in a functioning democracy. He cites the famous Watergate Scandal as a testimony that the media can spark political upheaval. The seemingly unpredictable General Merafhe reloads his gun and begins to shoot once again at the press. He accuses the media of reporting to the public not what information disseminators intended but its own often ill-intentioned slant on the subject. Being the victim of what he termed pernicious reporting; General Merafhe chronicles some of the incidents when he clashed with the press. He says if it was possible he would dedicate another book on the injustices he has suffered at the hands of the media.
In his book, he recalls how he was crucified by the opposition when one reporter who lacked journalistic rigour distorted his statement regarding the shooting of John Kalafatis. At one point, NACA had to come to his rescue, after the press misinterpreted and fabricated his speech and accused him of insulting HIV positive people. In another incident, one reporter nit-picked and remodelled his speech in Ramokgonami to push his own scurrilous agenda. The other time when he addressed a press conference in vernacular, he was accused of intimidating journalists because it is a taboo in Setswana to argue with an elder. The General notes that it was crystal clear that he and the media had reached irreconcilable differences when he addressed MISA Media Awards in 2008, while he thought he paid homage to them, the following Monday, he was accused of likening press to a marauding lion.