Bishop quits Botswana TV in state censorship protest

A British journalist who helped launch Botswana’s first TV station has quit after less than a year in protest against government censorship.

Chris Bishop, head of news and current affairs at Botswana TV, resigned after government officials blocked the broadcast of a documentary about a white South African woman who was hanged for murder.

Bishop told Press Gazette that the incident was the latest in a long catalogue of interference and harassment by ministers from the office of President Festus Mogae.

"If a minister didn’t want it on air, there would be a phone call ordering it off," said Bishop.

"Each time I put a strong case and insisted it went on, but this time I was told to pull the programme and if I didn’t, action would be taken against me. The Government didn’t want to see anything to do with the case on air."

The half-hour documentary was an investigation into the story of Mariette Bosch who had killed her best friend so that she could marry her husband. Her death sentence had been the subject of controversy as she was the first white woman to be hanged in Botswana.

"Ironically, I wanted to show how far the station had come, that we were able to cover a big story that everyone was talking about," said Bishop. "But they ended up showing a wildlife documentary instead."

Bishop said he had made it clear before he agreed to work for the government-funded TV station that he would only do so if he could run it without interference.

"I said, ‘If you want a government information service, fine, but save yourself some money and use one of your own people instead of paying out for journalists’," said Bishop, who since his resignation has been offered a new post on a South African satellite business channel, Summit TV.

"They seemed to agree at the time, to give it more credibility. But from the beginning there was pressure to cover government events and not to put certain things on air."

Bishop, who has worked in Africa for the past seven years, sent his resignation to Botswana TV last week, the day before World Press Freedom Day.

"I hoped that my resignation would raise a debate in the region about the real meaning of press freedom and it seems that it has," he said.

"The people working there had been brought in from government departments, but over time they gained confidence and became strong, independent journalists. Now I suspect they will get someone in from the Government. It’s a pity because the service has been very popular with the people, but I’m afraid it will deteriorate now."

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