New media policy on cards

MASERU — Communications Minister Mothetjoa Metsing yesterday said the government is committed to transforming the media sector in line with international trends.

Speaking at a media policy workshop in the capital Maseru, Metsing said the government recognised the important role played by the media in promoting democracy and freedom.

“I wish to point out that when it comes to recognising the need for the transformation of the media to meet the needs and challenges of the modern information age, Lesotho is no reluctant disciple,” Metsing said.

The workshop was organised by the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology to discuss a draft media policy for Lesotho.

Once adopted by Cabinet the policy will serve as a guiding light for the electronic, publishing and print media sectors in Lesotho.

Metsing said the government was committed to implementing changes in the media sector that are in line with “international best practices”.

“The Kingdom of Lesotho is a proud signatory . . . to the 1991 Windhoek declaration on promoting independent and pluralistic African press,” Metsing said.

 He said the government was committed to implementing changes in the electronic and print media sectors to promote the free flow of ideas in the country.

Metsing said the government had liberalised the airwaves resulting in the setting up of privately owned radio stations around the country.

There are at least 10 radio stations operating in Lesotho, the majority of them privately owned.

The minister said the new media policy could be approved by Cabinet next month.

Speaking at the same workshop, a United States-based media consultant, Jonathan Jacob Nadler, said the media played a critical role in the promotion of democracy and free speech.

He said the media played a critical role in checking the excesses of governments adding that no government should be allowed to exercise absolute power.

He said where there are restrictions to the operations of the media there must be “compelling reasons” to justify these interventions.

Nadler said the government of Lesotho had expressed its commitment to adopt a media policy that is consistent with “international best practices”.

The draft policy document says the government wants to repeal and review several pieces of legislations that unduly restrict the operations of the press.

Among some of the laws cited are the Obscene Publications Proclamation (1912), the Sedition Proclamation (1938), the Official Secrets Act (1967), the Printing and Publications Act of 1967 and the Internal Security Act of 1984.

“Some of these laws should be carefully reviewed to see what is no longer appropriate in a democratic society,” Nadler said.

Media rights groups have in the past called for the repeal of these pieces of legislation arguing that they were undesirable in a democratic society.

“The Law Reform Commission will identify all laws that unreasonably restrict media freedom.

“The commission will propose amendments to existing laws or, if appropriate, repeal of those laws,” says the draft policy.

MISA-Lesotho director Tsebo Matsasa said the regional media rights group was happy with the draft policy.

 “We are quite happy with the draft as it will ensure freedom of the media,” Matsasa said.

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