MISA Lesotho shares its Way Forward recommendations for defending media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information to mark World Press Freedom Day 2020.
LAWS AND REGULATIONS
Create a conducive media policy and legislative environment
The general principles contained in a media policy are direly required to guide the decisions of authorities, especially the government of Lesotho, about the functioning of the media. At the same time, a conducive legislative framework would allow the media to operate more freely and effectively.
Amend the constitution to guarantee media freedom
Press freedom is only implicitly protected under Article 14 (1) of Lesotho’s Constitution (1993), which guarantees freedom of expression. In line with international best practice, Lesotho should introduce a constitutional provision explicitly guaranteeing media freedom to ensure robust protection of the press.
Lesotho lacks an industry-wide framework that regulates both print and electronic media: currently, only TV and radio are covered by the Broadcasting Disputes Resolution Panel. Print media consumers have no means of lodging a complaint except through the courts. At the same time, Lesotho’s media has a reputation for being unethical and lacking editorial independence.
Create a comprehensive media regulatory framework
The establishment of governing principles and code of ethics for media practitioners, editors and proprietors could help improve media quality and professionalism.
Establish a press council and ombudsman
A National Media Council and National Press Ombudsman regulating both print and electronic media would provide a credible complaint mechanism for media content consumers outside of the courts. Suing in court for exorbitant damages has a chilling effect on Lesotho’s surviving newspapers and magazines.
Develop a co-regulatory media system
Government and the media industry should cooperate to develop a co-regulatory media system that brings together both voluntary and statutory regulatory systems. A co-regulatory system would allow for the state’s intervention in case of failure of self-regulation.
Equally distribute government advertising among media houses
The government should not directly advertise with media houses. Rather, it should channel advertising through private and independent advertising agencies, which in turn, distribute ads based on clear criteria such as coverage (reach) and listenership (readership).
Incorporate media training at registration
Media houses should be bound by law to present training plans at registration indicating how they will build the capacity of their employees. In-house trainings are key to developing professional and ethical journalists.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa Lesotho (MISA Lesotho) chapter has on the 20th December, 2017 successfully tested Quthing Community Radio station (QCR) as a move to kick start licensing process.
“I was almost losing hope that it will happen,” so said the Community Radio Station Steering Committee chairlady Ms. Anna Shale.
The radio station comes three years since the equipment was bought by MISA Lesotho under its Access to Information (ATI) through establishment of Community Radio Stations (CRSs) supported by Open Society Initiative in Southern Africa (OSISA) in 2015.
Shale had a good reason to lose hope. In 2015 just about six months into the project, the Government of Lesotho (GoL) issued a moratorium on issuance of broadcasting licenses under pretext that it was going to reform broadcasting law, while in some quarters high profiled GoL representatives were alleging that the project was meant to assist opposition to defeat the then ruling coalition government.
“Since you are my friend, I have to be honest with you. I am told that you are establishing these community radio stations to help opposition to win elections”, so said the most senior official to MISA Lesotho National Director at the official’s office a few days before the moratorium was issued.
During the moratorium MISA Lesotho and the three CRSs committees wrote several letters to the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) and ministers of communications in the previous and current coalition governments.
On the 30th June, 2017 MISA Lesotho and the current minister Joang Molapo stoke a deal to suspend the moratorium by the first quarter of 2018 and came as a surprise when at the MISA Lesotho’s website launch on the 12th December, 2017 the minister announced cabinet decision to suspend the moratorium.
The QCR also known as ”Mosa ho Seaka”, “Emshiya Kwe Seaka” or “Pheshakwe Qhili” because of serving a diverse tribes community of the Quthing district, is just but one of other two CRSs of Semonkong in the Maseru district and Mokhotlong district and they all under MISA Lesotho project.
The suspension caused MISA Lesotho to request no-cost extension for two times and the project is now set to end in March 2018. It is MISA Lesotho’s hope that the job will have been completed by the set date.
Following a two year long MISA Lesotho’s advocacy, the five months old coalition government of Lesotho has suspended a moratorium on issuance of broadcast licenses.
The suspension that paves a way for establishment of three community radio stations by MISA Lesotho with a financial support of Open Society Initiative in Southern Africa (OSISA) in the districts of Mokhotlong, Maseru (Semonkong) and Quthing was announce by the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology Joang Molapo, (pictured above).
“In its sitting of two weeks ago, the cabinet of the government of Lesotho has suspended moratorium on issuance of licenses”, so said Molapo at the launch of MISA Lesotho website on Tuesday 12th December, 2017, an occasion held during the Lesotho Council on NGOs’ week in Maseru.
The moratorium was issued in July, 2015 under pretext that it allows for legislation reforms regime in the broadcasting sector. As the moratorium is suspended, there is no legislation reformed, the fact that puts the government reason for over two suspension of issuance of licenses in doubts.
Along with the three community radio stations to be established under MISA Lesotho project, there were also two other radio stations that have waited for licenses for some time now and once they get on air the number of radio stations in a two million population Lesotho will rise to 26.
In 2015, MISA Lesotho, supported by Open Society Initiative in Southern Africa (OSISA), started assisting three communities to establish their own radio stations in a view to catalysing vibrancy in information exchange and debate for community development.
The project covering Mokhotlong, Semonkong and Quthing communities is, however, being frustrated by a moratorium on the issuance of broadcast licenses granted two years ago.
In each of the communities, the community members’ commitment is evident in that in Mokhotlong and Semonkong the project was allocated a plot where MISA Lesotho has constructed and completed studios. In the district of Quthing, the office of the District Administrator gave a house that was converted to a complete studio.
Equipment for the three radio stations was bought a year and half ago and it is yet to be installed because no broadcasting license has been granted.
The project was supposed to have ended in March, 2017. Due to the moratorium, the donor has agreed to a no-cost extension until March 2018 banking on the promise of the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Joang Molapo to suspend the moratorium by first quarter of the 2018.
MISA Lesotho invites the people of Lesotho to commemorate the 28th September, 2016 as International Day for Universal Access to Information by distributing information material on media-related documents in Lesotho and globally.
Material for distribution includes research articles on the freedom of information in Africa, State of the Media in Lesotho, Report on Open and Secretive Public Institutions in Southern Africa, So This is Democracy?, African Media Barometer, a simplified Sesotho version of Lesotho Constitution, and many more.
MISA Lesotho will have a stall at LNDC Center square, near Shoprite and Hungry Lion for distributing the above mentioned material from 0900hrs to 1600hrs.
MISA Lesotho held a one-day governance and management training workshops for the steering committees of the Quthing and Semonkong community radio stations in February 2016.
The workshops are part of a series of capacity building initiatives aimed at empowering the communities of Mokhotlong, Quthing and Semonkong to establish community radio stations.
MISA Lesotho is working with the district administrators of Mokhotlong and Quthing districts, as well as Maseru district administrator through the Semonkong Urban Council.
MISA Lesotho and Open Society Initiative for Africa are working together to establishing community radio stations as a way of giving rural communities access to the information they need to make informed decisions in their day-to-day life.
In the training workshops, the steering committees also reviewed plan of actions they drew up in November and December 2015. They revisited these plans of action in order to establish whether or not they still within the time-frame and mandate set in 2015.
The reviews noted that satisfactory progress has been made by the three steering committees so far. MISA Lesotho is confident that with the pace and dedication of the committee members, the three community radio stations will be on-air by May 2016 in in time for commemoration of World Press Freedom Day.