THE attack on two journalists from Lesotho Television while covering a protest march last Thursday should be roundly condemned as yet another serious threat to press freedom.
Journalists Ntšiuoa Sekete and Tšiu Setho were attacked while covering a protest march organised by civic groups last week.
The demonstrators wanted to hand a petition to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili urging him to intervene to end labour disputes at Lesotho’s two universities.
The protest however turned violent after Mosisili declined to personally accept the petition at his Qhobosheaneng offices.
But instead of handling their frustrations in a rational manner the protesters went ballistic, beating up the two journalists.
The journalists’ crime, according to the protesters, was that the organisation they worked for, they alleged, was rabidly pro-government.
They accused the station of gross bias in its coverage of news involving the protesters in the past.
But no matter how aggrieved the protesters felt we find it totally unacceptable that they reacted by attacking journalists who were merely performing their duties.
The attack was misguided. It must be condemned.
The attack on the journalists captured an unfortunate truth about the manner in which we conduct our business — that we still remain stuck in Stone Age politics where we resort to violence whenever we disagree on issues.
We must ditch this politics of intolerance and learn to live with divergent views as we conduct our business.
What happened last Thursday also raises important questions about what needs to be done to promote a culture of political tolerance in the run-up to elections next year.
We think it is also important that we have intelligent debate on the role of Lesotho Television in Lesotho’s democratisation agenda.
We raise this issue because there is a perception that Lesotho Television has dismally failed to act in the interests of the general public.
It is a state broadcaster that remains beholden to the interests of the government in power.
The station is also seen as too close to the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy party.
We are not surprised that critics consider the station to be an appendage of the government’s propaganda machinery.
They say the station is at the beck-and-call of government ministers.
They also say the station mainly broadcasts the government’s “doctored” viewpoints at the expense of divergent views from opposition figures and other government critics.
This perception is not entirely without basis.
Like elsewhere in Africa, the government is still keeping a tight lid on information flow through the control of radio and television stations.
This is significant on a continent where radio remains the most potent weapon in the control and circulation of information.
This is probably the reason why the government is reluctant to completely let go of the air waves.
We think it is important that we have debate on broadcasting reforms at Lesotho Television.
Lesotho Television must move away from the shackles of the state to become a fully fledged public broadcaster.
We think the station must be independent of government if it is to truly play its role of nation-building.
Journalists at Lesotho Television must be freed from the tentacles of government control and censorship if they are to discharge their duties professionally without undue interference from powerful government officials and ministers.
The government has no business running “media empires”.
We are confident that journalists at the state-controlled media are professionals who can do their jobs without politicians meddling and pulling the strings behind the scenes.