7. Yardsticks for a democratic media policy

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7. Yardsticks for a democratic media policy

The following will provide some broad pointers to indicate the scope of work lying ahead in respect of the underlying principles of a democratic media reform.


Some democratic constitutions only provide for a general guarantee of freedom of expression, without making express mention of the freedom of the media. This can lend itself to restrictive interpretation to the detriment of media freedom and lead to potential conflict. The right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media should not extend to propaganda for war, incitement of violence or advocacy of hatred which could cause harm.

The general right of access to information held by the state, as well as the provision for an independent broadcasting regulatory authority should be part of the constitution itself, rather than be left to individual legislation.


"Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information", says the Banjul Declaration of 2002. Freedom of information legislation should:

  • acknowledge that every public authority is responsible to the citizens who have a right to participate in the processes by which these authorities take action on their behalf or in their name;
  • recognise that information in the control of public authorities is a valuable public resource, and that public access to such information promotes greater transparency and accountability of those authorities and is thus essential to the democratic process;
  • establish that every person has a right to access this information to the greatest extent possible consistent with the public interest, and that public authorities have a corresponding obligation to disclose information; and
  • enable every person to request the amendment of, and to comment on, his or her personal information in the control of a public authority.

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The state has no role to play in the control of the media, be they broadcast or print. These are either privately or publicly controlled. State controlled broadcasting needs to be transformed into a public broadcasting service. State controlled print media need to be privatised or otherwise transformed.

The state does, however, have a role to play in facilitating an environment favourable for the development of a pluralistic media landscape. It needs to be safeguarded that in doing so, the state does not overstep its mark.


There is a need for legislation to protect competition in the media market and to regulate media concentration with the aim to promote media pluralism.


A Media Act should restrict itself to basic provisions such as the guarantee of freedom of the media, an assurance that no measures which adversely affect freedom of the media will be allowed, the requirement to publish an imprint, the right to reply, and the clear distinction between editorial and advertising content. It should also spell out the principle that culpability for criminal offences perpetrated by means of published material will be determined by the provisions of general criminal law (journalists are to be treated like any other citizen).


Matters of professional standards and journalistic ethics should be regulated by the media themselves through a code of professional standards and a procedure to promote such standards. Such codes and procedures should be firmly established and scrupulously observed, so as not to invite `benevolent' interference from the state on behalf of aggrieved citizens.


A new, democratic broadcasting policy should be the result of a broad public debate. These are some of the goals and objectives of such a policy as currently discussed in Botswana:

Goal A: Develop a diverse broadcasting system which serves the needs of the public's diverse shades of opinions, beliefs, views, interests and tastes, regardless of their social or geographical status.

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To achieve this:

  • Establish a variety of broadcasting services regulated by an independent body.
  • Foster diversity in broadcasting and media in general by introducing regulations on cross-media ownership and control.
  • Advance universal access to broadcasting services by establishing an effective signal distribution system, taking into consideration new information technologies.

Goal B: Develop a diverse broadcasting system which promotes freedom of expression and public participation in the decision making process.

To achieve this:

  • Create a public broadcasting service that is accountable to the public.
  • Encourage the establishment of private broadcasting services which contribute to a diverse and pluralistic broadcasting landscape.
  • Promote community broadcasting services which are operated for and by communities on a non profit base.

Goal C: Develop a diverse broadcasting system which reflects, safeguards, enriches and strengthens the identity, culture and character of the nation.

To achieve this:

  • Promote a high degree of locally originated content in programming and thus allow for the widest possible range of national expression, with regard not only to the quantity of local content, but also to its quality.
  • Encourage broadcasting services to use languages which serve the needs of their audiences and thus give an equal chance to all to participate in the national discourse.
  • Ensure that all sectors of broadcasting fulfill their responsibilities guided by high professional standards agreed upon in a common code of ethics and to encourage self-regulation in the broadcasting industry.

Goal D: Develop a diverse broadcasting system which contributes to the growth of the economy in general and the communication industry in particular while enhancing citizen empowerment.

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To achieve this:

  • Strengthen the economic viability of all sectors of broadcasting by ensuring fair competition.
  • Empower citizens by regulating ownership.
  • Contribute to job creation and human resource development in the broadcasting and related industries, as well as to innovation in technology.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Oktober 2003

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