Media under siege from misguided politicians

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Bongiwe ZihlanguBongiwe Zihlangu

THE 28 February poll has come and gone, leaving Lesotho with a new government whose prime minister is yet to be inaugurated.

But it is now public knowledge Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Pakalitha Mosisili, will be sworn in as the country’s premier next Tuesday, taking over the hot-seat from his All Basotho Convention (ABC) counterpart, Thomas Thabane.

But I have a concern; a very serious concern as far as the treatment of the media is concerned. I mean, not so long ago, in the run-up to the election, some supporters declared that once their parties won the poll and got into power, they would ruthlessly deal with certain media houses for their “biased and partisan reporting before and during the election campaign period”.

I vividly remember one Mamello Morrison, a Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) official, speaking on Tšenolo FM one Friday evening, threatening that once they got into power, they would deal with the Lesotho Times newspaper because of the media house’s “biased reporting”.

She further warned that all media houses should be careful how they reported because there would be a heavy price to pay once her party was in power.

And the only sin the paper had committed was publishing one Thakabanna Nyokana’s article, which did not sit well with Ms Morrison.

But instead of doing the honourable thing of responding to Mr Nyokana on a similar platform, she went and threw a tantrum on radio, proving to all and sundry that indeed politicians are rather naïve  where the media in concerned.

Now I wait with bated breath for Ms Morrison to act on her threats because as it turns out, her LCD is a partner in the yet to be sworn-in coalition government to be led by Dr Mosisili, with LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing as deputy prime minister.

In the same breath, some party officials in support of the congress movement, were clear that they would not, under any circumstance, agree to be interviewed by Lesotho Times journalists because, as they put it, the paper was pro Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC).

I remember just a week ago, learning from my colleagues in the newsroom, that a former minister of the LCD had offered two of our journalists, an opportunity to open their own newspaper because “we are going to shut down the Lesotho Times because the owner wines and dines with Thabane”.

As if that was not enough, another former minister apparently boasted to another colleague of mine, that the congress parties were going to deal with the Lesotho Times owner because he had won a tender to supply government hospitals with medicines.

The manner in which the colleague described the former minister’s attitude as he shared the news, sent a chill down my spine, because as far as I’m concerned, the Lesotho Times owner’s business deals and other companies, have nothing to do with the media house as an entity.

Was the former minister implying that it was a sin for the publisher to be running other companies apart from the Lesotho Times?

A very important question: Is the Lesotho Times the only media house that is seemingly biased, or has the whole media fraternity allowed itself to be infiltrated by politicians, who now have this misguided notion that they own newspapers and radio stations?

It is not a secret that some of Lesotho’s media houses are aligned to certain political parties and I put the blame solely on politicians for abusing their power and threatening those that do not support them.

Tšenolo FM has also had its fair share of problems, such as the 2014 attack with hammers that sent the radio station off air for a couple of days, solely because the station and its owner, Mr Mohau Kobile, are said to be supporters of Lesotho’s congress parties, advancing their agenda while undermining the ABC and its leadership.

The list is endless, as Harvest FM and PC FM have also come under fire for allegedly supporting Dr Thabane and Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane.

But I strongly believe that instead of exacting revenge on certain media houses simply because they don’t report to some people’s liking, the main focus should be on transforming the industry across the board.

How do we even hope to have a functional government if senior party officials are already fantasising about hurting certain media houses, when bias is a cancer that is ravaging this beautiful profession?

The last time I checked, the man who is about to assume Lesotho’s premiership, Dr Mosisili, went all out during his 14-year tenure as prime minister between 1998 and 2012, to develop and transform Lesotho’s media, with the understanding that it was a partner in development.

It was during his time in office that the media in Lesotho enjoyed freedom of speech and reporting ‘Without Fear or Favour’, hence the Lesotho Times’ slogan.

It was during Dr Mosisili’s term that government opened the floodgates to the establishment of several newspapers and radio stations, all with the view that Lesotho is a democracy and that in any democratic dispensation, the media should be as free as possible to give the public information and allow people to make informed decisions affecting their lives.

I therefore appeal to Dr Mosisili, knowing fully that he does not subscribe to the victimisation of the media, to ensure that we continue to function as freely as possible in the democratic dispensation that is Lesotho.

There is no denying that emotions are running high for those individuals who feel hard done by media reports, particularly those by media houses they perceive to be sleeping with the enemy.

However, this transitional phase should be seen as a beginning and a time for healing those old wounds.

A lot has happened and most of it led to the media being as fractured as it is today. But whatever happened does not give any politician the right to pinpoint certain media houses as culprits, while allowing others who have committed similar crimes to get away scot-free, simply because they advance a particular agenda.

The media is damaged enough as things stand and it is a pity that in today’s Lesotho, a media house’s relevance and worth are gauged by which political party it aligns itself with.

But my firm opinion is that as an old hand, Dr Mosisili knows better than to allow his second chance at taking Lesotho forward to be tainted by revenge against the media and people in high places abusing others simply because they are in power.

I would hate for the Dr Mosisili’s DC-led coalition government to be involved in the summoning of journos to Police Headquarters for intimidation and questioning regarding stories published and stuff said during radio broadcasts.

I dare say Dr Mosisili’s DC for one, benefitted immensely from the media and particularly the Lesotho Times, when the party was formed.

Even research conducted by MISA some months after the 2012 poll, indicated that the DC received a bigger portion of media coverage after it was formed, as well as during and after elections, most of which was positive.

Having been in the wilderness for two years after he was ousted by Dr Thabane’s coalition government, Dr Mosisili’s DC relied heavily on the media, both print and broadcast, to remain relevant.

Even during this last election, the DC knew the success of its campaign was dependent on media coverage, hence the party’s resolution to buy time on all radio stations in the country, even those perceived to be part of the enemy’s camp.

Hence it is my expectation that Dr Mosisili will rein-in his charges and control their urge to destroy certain media houses by influencing the cutting down of advertising to kill business in a country with such an alarming unemployment rate.

Well, the onus is on the ‘Lion of the Mountain’, as his followers affectionately call him, to keep peace and calm and ensure that he “restores Lesotho’s damaged image and dignity”, by making the transformation of the media and protection of media houses, one of his major priorities.

And oh! Good, Sir, could you be kind enough to consider including journalists from the private media in your entourage, particularly when you attend SADC, AU and UN conferences abroad?

Surely such a move could play an important role in the healing process and gradual transformation and restoration of the media’s image and dignity……..

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