Statement of Concern over Prime Minister’s Announcement of Classification of Government Information

September 23rd 2020
To All Media Houses

MISA Lesotho has, on Wednesday September 23rd 2020, submitted a letter of concern to
Office of the Prime Minister over a statement he made on September 14th 2020 while
addressing the media at premises of the Ministry of Health.
During a post ministers’ induction media briefing on above mentioned date, The Honorable
Prime Minister announced the government was working on classifying some of its
documents/information and that any media organization which publishes confidential
government information will be liable to prosecution.

The premier said it was a was prosecutable offence for the media or anyone else to publish
or to be found in possession of classified government information.
In the Lesotho Times issue of September 17-23 2020, the prime minister was quoted saying:
“Anybody who is not authorized to be in possession of classified government documents is
committing an offence. So, when the media gets hold of classified documents, you should
know that it is illegal.”

Further in the article the premier was quoted adding: “Once classified, the contents of those
documents cannot be leaked. Even your (media) inside source is not expected to leak those
documents. As the fourth estate, you are always referring to well-placed inside source in
your stories. We keep wondering where those inside sources are. Government documents
are leaked to social media and at times top classified secrets are leaked by your inside
MISA Lesotho, an advocacy and lobby non-governmental organization mandated to promote
media freedom, diversity, independence and pluralism, as well as freedom of expression in
conformity with the 1991 Windhoek Declaration, which saw the birth of MISA in the region,
has not taken the prime minister’s statement lightly.

The Institute finds the prime minister’s statement utterly posing threat to press freedom and
interfering with editorial independence of the media. Most directly, the prime minister’s
statement has a chilling effect on the right of Basotho to access and receive information.
MISA Lesotho has since brought to attention of the prime minister that one of the key functions of the media is to perform a watchdog role to promote of transparency and accountability in leadership.
Inter alia, the function of the media is to provide information for the nation. The media is an agenda setter. This is how the media, in any state, contributes to the development of nations.

MISA Lesotho is committed to ensuring that the media does not become a lapdog of the government.
Coming from the head of government, MISA Lesotho views the prime minister’s statement characteristic of the following chilling connotations against freedoms of expression and media, as well as the right to access and receipt of information as pillars of democracy:
➢ Threatening to media against performing its watchdog role,
➢ Interfering with editorial independence of the media,
➢ Casting a shadow of doubt on political willingness the government to implement the envisaged media reforms within the national multisector reforms process,
➢ Suggesting lack of willingness on the part of the government to enact the Access to and Receipt of Information Bill of 2000,
➢ Symbolising unwillingness by the cabinet to approve the Media Policy that has become a mantra since early 1990s, and
➢ Signaling the government’s quest to micromanage, censor or even silence the media
The Honourable Prime Minister’s statement coincides with commemoration of the United Nations’ International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) on September 28.

The statement further coincides with latest survey findings of the Afrobarometer research which place Lesotho at a critical democratic stand. The report shows that 76 percent of respondents under the survey have a view that Lesotho in not a democracy.
These, together with the premier’s statement, could put Lesotho in fragile terms with the international community.
MISA Lesotho has advised Honourable Prime Minister to retract the statement or provide justifiable clarification within his earliest and reasonable convenience.

About MISA Lesotho

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho was founded in 1996. Its work focuses on promoting, and advocating for, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.