Harvest FM in hot water
ONE of the country’s popular radio stations, Harvest FM, has landed in hot water after airing a programme which offended the government this week.
The government has since written to the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), which is responsible for licencing all radio stations, asking it to intervene and take “stern” measures against station. The development could see the station’s operational licence being withdrawn.
The programme in question was an interview the radio station held with Lehloenya Mahao, family spokesman and brother of slain former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao.
Mr Mahao appeared on one of Harvest FM’s morning programmes hosted by Puseletso Mphane to refute claims by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) that it had helped fund his slain brother’s funeral.
The government claims Mr Mahao falsely alleged in the programme that Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s coalition had provided M100 000 to fund a court case by Lieutenant-Colonel Hashatsi in which the LDF Special Forces commander is seeking to nullify a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) inquiry into, among other things, his brother’s killing.
After the programme, Harvest FM owner ‘Malichaba Lekhoaba said she received a letter signed by Prime Minister’s Political Advisor, Dr Fako Likoti, in which he asked the LCA to take “stern action” against her radio station.
Dr Likoti’s letter, dated 5 January 2016, was addressed to the Lesotho Communications Authority’s Chief Executive Officer Tšeliso ‘Mokela and was also copied to Communications Minister Khotso Letsatsi and Harvest FM management.
Ms Lekhoaba said she signed a delivery book to acknowledge receipt of the letter from a messenger from the Prime Minister’s office who delivered it to her office.
The letter, headlined “Harvest FM’s non consultation with government on pertinent issues” partly read: “Today, 5 January 2016, the above radio station hosted one Mr Lehloenya Mahao on its morning programme.
“Mr Mahao made a claim that (the) Lesotho government paid M100 000 towards Mr Hashatsi’s case. The programme convener even urged Mr Mahao to repeat on air this serious allegation without getting government’s side.
“This fallacious statement was rubbed on listeners without the programme convener even establishing the truth about this.
“This malicious allegation was therefore entertained by Ms Mphana without even trying to establish the truth.
“It has become a common cause that Harvest FM has become one of the radio stations that has embarked on a campaign to demonise and cast negative aspersions against the government of Lesotho.”
“It is on this basis that we ask your good office to take stern measures against the radio station.”
Ms Lekhoaba was nevertheless adamant that her station had done nothing wrong.
“The issue of M100 000 doesn’t appear anywhere in the programme. In any event, if Dr Likoti felt that he wanted to respond to whatever claims spread by the Mahaos, he could have demanded the same platform to respond to the matter.
“I am wondering why Dr Likoti opted to issue out such a letter without first demanding his right of reply.”
Ms Lekhoaba said she had not heard any further communication from the authorities since the letter was dispatched.
She nonetheless emphasized that she was “not surprised” by the development.
“I am not surprised. This used to happen a lot during the previous regime of the current Prime Minister (Dr Mosisisli) before the 2012 general elections. Government officials would lodge so many complaints against Harvest FM programmes resulting in several suspensions of our station,” Ms Lekhoaba said.
“Now that they are back in power, they have resumed their onslaught.”
Mr Letsatsi backed Dr Likoti’s protestations and launched his own broadside at Harvest FM.
Mr Letsatsi told the Lesotho Times this week that the Harvest FM broadcast had been aimed at “spreading hatred and sowing divisions within the society”.
He said it was reprehensible for the media to provide a platform for Mr Mahao to claim that the government was funding Lt-Col Hashatsi, without providing the government with an opportunity to respond. He said radio broadcasts must be well researched and balanced for the benefit of listeners. Then again, Mr Letsatsi said, he had been dumbfounded by the programme and as the minister responsible for the media, he would consider lodging a complaint against Harvest FM to the LCA.
“I could not understand the motive behind such a programme. The Broadcasting Act is clear that serious disciplinary action must be taken against a radio station broadcasting such programmes,” Mr Letsatsi said.
Meanwhile, Mr Mahao said his family was infuriated by the PFD’s claims that it had contributed groceries and a cow towards the burial of his brother Lt General Mahao.
The PFD first made the claim at a press conference in September last year.
The party’s deputy leader, Thabang Kholumo, who also serves as the Education and Training deputy minister in the coalition government, repeated the same claims in a radio interview last week.
Mr Mahao said if the PFD could prove that it had indeed made such contributions, then his family would be willing to give the party a refund. But the family was sure that no such contribution had been made and accused the PFD of making the claims as a “publicity seeking gesture”.
The “unfounded, insensitive and in bad taste” claims by the PFD were also a desperate attempt to endear the party to the multitudes of Basotho who were dumbfounded by Lt-Gen Mahao’s death, he said.
“We must make it clear that as the family we have been unable to establish how and to whom they (the PFD) made their much vaunted contribution. To take to public platforms to announce that one made contributions to a funeral is unknown in Basotho custom,” he said.
“We are, therefore, left with the conclusion that, if indeed the PFD made a contribution, they seem unable to live with it in their conscience. The family has resolved to help ease their conscience. We invite them to bring whatever proof of the contribution they made and we shall refund it without any qualms whatsoever.”