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.
MISA Lesotho is sharing its recommendations for improving media freedom and freedom of expression in Lesotho in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day 2018. You can also download a PDF copy to print and share.
LAWS AND REGULATIONS
Participate in the development of legal reforms recommended by SADC
In 2015, the Southern Africa Development Community recommended large-scale reforms in Lesotho, including the constitution and information and media law. Lesotho’s media sector and civil society, as well as international donors, should play an active role in informing the development of new laws that may impact the media, freedom of expression or access to information. They should also lobby for a legal framework governing the media in line with international standards.
Push for the interim broadcasting code to be turned into a permanent law
Government should enact the interim broadcasting code. This, among other things, mandates independent mechanisms for dispute resolution and requires editors to have a relevant journalistic background.
Establish a self-regulating press council
Media organisations should cooperate to establish a self-regulating media body for both broadcast, print and online media based on best-practice examples in the region. Lesotho’s broadcasting sector is currently regulated by the Communications Act, whereas print and online media have no regulatory body.
Unite media houses to protect freedom of expression and media freedom
Media managers in Lesotho need to come together and collectively engage and lobby government on common issues regarding freedom of expression and the safety of journalists.
Develop the media’s lobbying and advocacy skills
Media development organisations should help media managers acquire negotiating and advocacy skills in order to engage with the government.
Provide training and mentoring for journalists
Media organisations in Lesotho frequently employ untrained journalists and fail to provide them with on-the-job training or guidance. This lack of journalism skills leads to poor quality reporting that fails to meet basic professional standards. Media outlets need to support and guide their journalists. Media development organisations should consider developing longer-term projects that incorporate on-the-job mentoring.