28 September 2001


High Court declares advertising ban against newspapers unconstitutional

Incident details

Incident details


ban lifted

(MISA/IFEX) - In what is regarded as a victory for media freedom and freedom of expression, during the week of 24 September 2001, the Botswana High Court declared a government ban on advertising in two newspapers unconstitutional.

Justice IBK Lesetedi said the advertising ban by the Botswana government on the "Botswana Guardian" and "MidWeek Sun" violated the newspapers' constitutional rights to "freedom of expression."

As in Namibia, the Botswana government imposed the ban on the newspapers because, it charged, they were too critical of the country's leaders, and it hoped to demonstrate its displeasure about "irresponsible reporting and the exceeding of editorial freedom."

Justice Lesetedi said the pressure on the newspapers to change their editorial policy infringed on their right to freedom of expression.

What the government was doing, said the Judge, was telling the newspapers that if they wanted to continue to "enjoy the benefit of receiving advertising from government, [they] should conform to a reportage that falls within what it considers to be the parameters of editorial freedom."

MISA researcher Zoe Titus said the judgement was a victory for media freedom in the region and was optimistic that it would be emulated in Namibia, Swaziland and Tanzania, where similar bans prevail. "The message is that people in power should be tolerant. We hope that [Southern Africa Development Community] governments understand the importance of media," Titus said.

The Namibian government said the judgement did not have implications for its bans on advertising in and purchasing of "The Namibian". Information Permanent Secretary Mocks Shivute said the government was not compelled to advertise in any newspaper and its decisions "cannot and will not be influenced by decisions made in other countries".

"The Constitution is clear on the fact that Namibia is a sovereign state, which means that nobody from outside our borders will dictate to us what to do," he said. "Namibia has a free economy which allows government institutions and individuals to do business with whom they prefer," he added.

It is not clear when the decision to ban "The Namibian" will be reviewed. According to Shivute, this will be done "at the appropriate time."

"Currently, cabinet has other pressing matters of national importance to deal with, instead of reviewing its decision on ‘The Namibian’ straight away," Shivute said.

"The Namibian" has grown from an average circulation of 9,000 copies a day in 1996 to 26,800 copies by September 2001, based on sales figures for Fridays. In May, the circulation was at 23,000. Readership surveys have estimated that up to seventeen people read one copy of the newspaper in northern Namibia.

Justice Lesetedi said freedom of the media was but one aspect of freedom of expression. He said the views of the media may not always be palatable to those who govern, while the relationship with government can at times be described as akin to "opposing poles of a magnet."

Background Information

In March, the Namibian government slapped an advertising boycott on "The Namibian" newspaper, claiming the newspaper was too critical of its policies. The decision to ban advertising was taken at a cabinet meeting on 5 December 2000. Government departments, however, were reminded in March to heed the cabinet decision "with immediate effect."

In May, President Sam Nujoma ordered a total ban on the purchase of "The Namibian" by the Namibian government. The president’s directive closely followed an earlier cabinet decision to ban government ministries from advertising in the newspaper, on grounds that it maintained an "anti-government stance."

In a State House memorandum leaked to the newspaper, the president ordered as follows: "I hereby instruct with immediate effect from May 31 2001 the purchase of ‘The Namibian’ newspaper with state monies must be ceased forthwith. Government offices/ministries/agencies who may have already placed their orders in advance must ensure that those orders are cancelled immediately."

("The Namibian" newspaper contributed to this report.)


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