Local media blamed for being captured

JUSTICE MAQELEPO

Media in Lesotho is captured by politicians, the recently launched African Media Barometer (AMB) has exposed.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa – Lesotho launched the latest AMB which revealed brown envelop journalism tactics, exposing the industry to corrupt tendencies.

It denotes how powerful political figures and corporate entities limit the objectivity of journalists. The cause for the said state of affairs, AMB states, is poor remuneration and lack of skills and proper training.

It claims: “At times, journalists take items off a story or add unnecessary context to a story in order to please certain powerful members of society. It is claimed that journalists will even re-edit a story because they have received a bribe.”

It also noted that some media proprietors are open members of certain political groupings, leaving the newsrooms with no option but to lessen objective reporting when handling stories on bosses’ political organisations.

Skills’ shortage on the part of media personnel is also a cause for concern. Unintentional information distortion is rife because of untrained or inexperienced personnel, AMB notes.

It adds: “Court case reporting is often inaccurate with instances of the news article differing from the court transcripts as the journalist lack the skills to correctly interpret legal language.”

And there is polarisation and sensationalisation. This is mostly in private radio stations, where it was said the same event are reported differently by various media platforms. This was justified by lawsuits against the media born out of misinformation.

One other problem identified was the absence of a self-regulatory body, whereby the courts of law are the only abitratory option for aggrieved parties.

Limited resorces was one of the reason sited on why the media work is not up to standard. The fact that government ministers sponsor journalists for transport posed question-some credibility threat on professional conduct.

It was observed that government ministers are generally regarded an news by many a newsroom occupant. AMB says it is even worse for the government media, whereby ministers are followed to almost every event, compromising real news in the process.

It was concluded the is no editorial independence at Lesotho National Broadcasting Corporation (LNBS). LNBS is composed of Ultimate FM, Lesotho Television and Radio Lesotho.

Living example on direct political interference in state media newsrooms were revealed. News teams in the said media houses therefore self-censor themselves to please the government of the day.

LNBS journalists’ are therefore torn between identifying themselves as journalists and public servants because state media reports directly to the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology and his second in command, the Principal Secretary.

Over the years, efforts by civil society organisations on advocating it to be transformed into a true public broadcaster have been but in vain. The same fall for the media policy.

It was noted state media workers are not free to join media associations and trade unions because they are perceived as civil servants. However, the only thriving media organisations are Lesotho Sports Reporters Association.

It was therefore recommended that journalists’ union and other media professional bodies be revived; spearhead media legal reform processes and award exceling journalists so as to develop and improve the sector.

Acting MISA-Lesotho National Director, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, said the AMB will be a tool to lobby the on-going national reforms in the media sector. In due course, he said MISA will call media stakeholders to map the way forward.

The need for media law, government not promoting media development, lack of professionalism and poor remuneration for journalists in Lesotho formed part of spirited discussion at the launch of African Media Barometer in Maseru on Friday by Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho.

Panellists agreed that Lesotho needs media law that encompasses and supports the freedom of expression guaranteed in the constitution although the country has several laws that can erode it, laws such as the Sedition Proclamation No.44 of 1938 and the internal security Act of 1984 which prohibits criticism of the government, provide penalties for seditious libel and endanger reporters’ ability to protect the confidentiality of their sources.

The 1967 Official Secrets Act and the 2005 Public Service Act which prohibits civil servants from disclosing information thus not only insulating government institutions from scrutiny but also making it difficult for journalists to conduct investigations.

At the launch one of the panellists, Mzimkhulu Sithetho, a newspaper editor said citizens in Lesotho exercise their rights to freedom of expression to a certain degree especially on radio saying there are 16 radio stations and people are able to express themselves freely. He said Lesotho has a highly polarised media environment and people only speak their minds when they are sure of the ideological stance of the radio station.

He said the practise of the right to freedom of expression by both citizens and journalists has seen its good and bad times in recent years saying that the state of media freedom depends on the government in power. He added since 2015 they have had three governments and the situation has been shifting saying in the same three years there was a government that threatened the media and then another that was supportive of media.

He emphasised that Lesotho has no media legislation and as such there has not been much activity in the space adding that the Media Policy has been in draft for 15 years. He added there is no political will in Lesotho to provide more freedom to media.

The Barometer is an in-depth and comprehensive description and measurement system for national media environments. Every three or four years a panel of 10 to 12 experts meets to assess the media situation in the country by discussing the national media environment. There are 39 indicators that are discussed.

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