By Keiso Mohloboli
MASERU — Harvest FM proprietor ‘Malichaba Lekhoaba and the radio station’s presenter for the “Rise and Shine” programme, Motsamai Talla, claim they received death threats after reporting on suspected abuse of National Aids Commission (NAC) funds.
NAC was closed in December 2011, resulting in the retrenchment of the commission’s staff and the transfer of the administration of its funds to cabinet.
Last Thursday Talla reported on his programme that he had received a tip-off linking one minister and his Principal Secretary to the abuse of NAC funds.
Lekhoaba said Motsamai broadcast a discussion on NAC “having a lot of operational funds despite its closure”.
According to Lekhoaba, after the programme Talla received a phone call from ‘Malehloka Ralitapole who is said to have introduced herself as a member of the All Basotho Convention (ABC).
She said Talla told her that Ralitapole insulted him in the phone call, ordering him to stop spreading lies about Soulo on radio.
“What surprised Talla was that he never mentioned any names on his programme because he only had claims linking Soulo to the allegation. Since it (the allegation) was not verified, he did not mention his name,” Lekhoaba said.
Molobeli Soulo, an ABC stalwart, is Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Lekhoaba said as a matter of policy, the radio station broadcasts such issues of public interest if there are valid and verifiable documents to support the allegations.
Lekhoaba said last Friday the Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Thabo Thakalekoala, wrote a letter to Talla inviting him to meet Cabinet and clarify what he had broadcast last Wednesday.
“The invitation letter was copied to me,” said Lekhoaba.
“I instructed Talla not to attend the meeting because, professionally, Thakalekoala had to address the letter to me as Talla’s boss and ask for his release,” Lekhoaba said.
According to Lekhoaba, it is Harvest FM’s policy that if anyone needs clarification on a certain issue, they should purchase a slot for clarification: “I expected Thakalekoala to buy space and clarify matters about the missing NAC money.”
Lekhoaba said on Saturday afternoon she received a threatening call advising her and Talla to watch out as there was a plot to kill both of them.
“I was shocked and immediately had to give Talla a call to find out if he was still alive and okay,” Lekhoaba said.
She said Talla told her he had received different calls also advising him to be careful because “he is on the verge of losing his life”.
“He also told me that people who identified themselves as NSS (National Security Service) officers also called him on different occasions alerting him of a plot to shoot him,” Lekhoaba said.
Lekhoaba said she did not report the matter to the police because of reasons she was not at liberty to discuss.
“I have my own reasons for not reporting the matter to Lesotho police but I will not elaborate on them,” she asserted.
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Meanwhile, Lekhoaba said she had heard that Prime Minister Thomas Motsoahae Thabane had a meeting at State House last week with top ABC officials where he advised them to stop threatening the media.
She said it was at that meeting that some unnamed ABC officials rallied behind Soulo claiming that Harvest FM was wrong to broadcast “false” allegations about a fellow minister.
Lekhoaba said journalists in Lesotho feel threatened even though government officials claim there is media freedom.
She cited two incidents that occured during the previous government’s tenure of office and another last year.
“Two Harvest presenters were harassed and insulted during factory workers’ protests on salary increments in 2012. Relebohile Moyeye and Nkosana Kunene were insulted at those protests hindering them from giving the protests full coverage,” Lekhoaba said.
In another episode, Moyeye was insulted by a Local Government PS from the previous government and Moyeye had the insults on record and played them over the radio.
Lekhoaba said last year Kunene was harassed in a meeting where during introductions the Minister of Home Affairs Joang Molapo allegedly asked Kunene “What is the media?”
This was after Molapo had asked him to introduce himself to the meeting.
Lekhoaba said the long-awaited Media Policy risks becoming a damp squib if its statutes are not fully implemented.
“Access to information is still a problem,” Lekhoaba said. “The same minister who is accused of stealing money to buy trucks said he has nothing to do with Harvest FM when its for presenters
journalists requested to have an interview with him.”
She also said intimidation is a culture that was not expected of the present coalition government because, “they claimed media freedom in their campaigns before becoming government”.
Talla also confirmed to this paper he had received death threats from different people over the past week.
He revealed to the Lesotho Times that anonymous calls alerted him of a plot to kill him and his boss, Lekhoaba.
“I was told to be aware that there are people who have been paid to kill me and ‘Malichaba,” Talla said.
He also said some of his friends working for NSS had also told him to take care of himself because there are plans in place to eliminate him.
“I was told by my NSS friends to enhance my security and watch my moves to avoid falling into the trap,” Talla said.
He said he received the threats following Ralitapole’s abusive phone call on Thursday.
According to Talla, Ralitapole told him that he is too young to hold a programme on Soulo on public radio.
“You are a mere child that has no stand to hold such a programme about Soulo,” Ralitapole reportedly stated.
While not perturbed by the threats, Talla said he was shocked by the double standards of government officials who in public say the media are important partners in development “but when we reveal corrupt actions we are labelled incompetent and unethical”.
“If anyone doubts my credibility as a radio presenter, he should take me to the courts of law instead of threatening me with death,” Talla said.
He said people should know that if any tragedy befalls him, it would be because of the threats he has been receiving.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Lesotho Times, Ralitapole denied allegations she insulted Talla over the phone.
According to Ralitapole, she had phoned Talla to advise him to report accurately as she recognised loopholes in his reporting.
“I gave him a sisterly call,” Ralitapole said. “I worked on radio for more than 10 years and still have the passion so I was just expressing concern, not threatening anybody.”
Ralitapole said she regards Talla as a colleague and was only suggesting that he should not be biased and push his own agenda on public radio.
“I also told him that it was inappropriate to report on that (issue) before consulting Soulo,” Ralitapole said.
“I do not have any interest in Talla. I cannot threaten his life in any way but I was just alerting him to avoid incompetent reporting, that’s all.”
According to Ralitapole, the threats Talla and Lekhoaba are receiving have got nothing to do with her.
“I should not be linked to the threats because I do not even know how to insult a person,” Talla said.
Police spokesperson Senior Inspector Lebona Mohloboli said there has been no report on Talla and ‘Malichaba being threatened.
“Any kind of threats should be reported to the police so that we would trace the perpetrators and arrest them,” Mohloboli said.