Gaborone- Botswana (PANA) -- The Director of Botswana's Information and Broadcasting, Andrew Sesinyi has rejected the government's proposed mass media Bill, saying it undermines press freedom.
"In its present state, this Bill does not uphold the true spirit of media freedom.
It instead, gives the impression that its architects intend to gag the media," he charged.
In an unprecedented move against his employers the government, Sesinyi said the Bill was in breach of the constitutional rights on free speech and expression.
The Director exonerated himself from blame over the Bill, saying it was drafted in his absence in 1997 and re-introduced without his knowledge.
Sesinyi, who still reads the news on Radio Botswana, practised journalism for 10 years before his appointment as Director of Information and Broadcasting.
He, however, called on journalists to remain calm, saying there was room for dialogue before the Bill is tabled before the legislature.
Meanwhile, the Bill continues to draw criticism from the media, political leaders and the public, with the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and the Media Consultative Council (MCC), accusing the Botswana government of betrayal.
"We fought (against) that Bill in 1997.
It was a consultative document that we did not like.
We made government aware that the Bill would undermine freedom of press and set up a task force that agreed that it be discarded," said Clara Olsen, an MCC member and the Botswana Gazette Managing Editor.
Botswana Guardian Editor, Outsa Mokone also said Bill would affect the country negatively.
For his part, Sechele Sechele, Editor of Mmegi, Botswana's mass circulation newspaper, recently fined for defaming a High Court judge, called for a rational dialogue.
He said journalists should form an independent media Council to enforce high ethical standards in the profession and counter the proposed Bill.
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Secretary General, Aidan White, said in a letter to President Festus Mogae: "The affairs of journalism and the ethics of the profession are best left to those with professional responsibilities.
"We urge your government to withdraw this Bill in favour of dialogue between government, Journalists and media organisations.
" The letter said "the way forward, should be based upon international principles of self regulation," adding that the harsh penalties prescribed by the Bill, including heavy fines and jail terms of up to three years, were unacceptable and would be strongly opposed by the IFJ.