The Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) has warned radio stations to abide by the terms of their licences or risk being shut down.
Addressing radio station owners and their staff during a meeting on compliance and reporting held in Maseru on Tuesday this week, LCA Chief Executive Officer, Monehela Phosholi, said the time had come for the authority to exercise its powers over outlets which violate their professional obligations.
Mr Phosholi’s comments followed remarks by some of the delegates that the LCA was not taking action against stations which openly flout their terms of reference .
“We hear you hold the view that the LCA is like a toothless bulldog and indeed, we have been seen to be reluctant to take harsh measures against radio stations, which violate terms of their licences.
“However, I should remind you that we have held several meetings with you at different forums, so I’m not, in any way, threatening you when I say we are going to be enforcing the law from now onwards. We will take measures that could result in the shutdown of radio stations that disregard the law,” Mr Phosholi said.
Mr Phosholi informed the forum that there were applications for four new stations, and wondered what could happen with additional channels amid the current situation.
“We have been asking ourselves what would happen if we approved the four applicants who are pressing us hard when we are already failing to have radios that comply with the law without being reprimanded by the authority.
“What more if we increased the number of the stations? You find that in your applications, you present very ambitious projections of revenue, and when you fail to generate the money you expected, you do all sorts of things to get it, such as sensationalising issues so much and broadcasting content without doing much research to gain popularity, with the hope of increasing your profile and revenue.
“We have been reluctant to take action against such radio stations, and some of you have urged us to make an example and we will make an example this time around,” Mr Phosholi warned.
Mr Phosholi also told the broadcasters they should be aware of Section 20 in the Communications Act of 2012, which empowers the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology to shut down any radio station without prior notice.
Mr Phosholi said such powers are exercised when there are reasons to believe a radio station would breach the country’s national security.
“A minister can issue an emergency suspension order against a broadcaster in the interest of the preservation of public order or national security. The order lasts up to 72 hours and if the minister wants an extension of the period of suspension, the courts would have to be approached,” he said, further urging the broadcasters to handle the current political crisis carefully to avoid being punished under the Act.
On his part, the LCA Registrar, Moshoeshoe Ntaote, reminded the broadcasters that while their licences expire after 10 years, the LCA had the powers to revoke them for non-compliance “anytime”.
Mr Ntaote also warned the broadcasters to stop denying people their right to respond to any broadcast, free of charge.
“Freedom of expression if not absolute; people have the right to reply so they should not be told to pay for time-slots on your radio stations when they want to be heard. Radio stations should not be used as platforms to tarnish people’s images, hence the right of reply should be afforded people freely,” Mr Ntaote said.
On the other hand, the chairman of the LCA Broadcasting Disputes Resolution Panel (BDRP), Tšebo Matsasa emphasised the need for people to be afforded the right to respond to anything said about them on the radio stations, free of charge “as enshrined in the constitution of Lesotho.
“Some radio stations want consumers to pay for time-slots in order for them to respond when they should actually allow such people time to respond free of charge,” said Mr Matsasa.