Radio stations silenced

MASERU — The government yesterday shutdown four private radio stations for seven hours after accusing them of spreading lies and inciting people to join the textile industry strike that started on Monday.
It is understood that the government was worried that the strike, which has so far been largely peaceful, could spiral into violent protests reminiscent of the 1998 political riots that destroyed major towns and left scores of people dead.
Officials from TK FM, PC FM, Harvest and Mo-Afrika told the Lesotho Times yesterday that they were switched off air around 10 am.
They said the government accused them of broadcasting hate speech and inciting the people to take to the streets.
Although officials in the communications ministry yesterday blamed “some maintenance work” for the blackout they could not explain why the government owned Radio Lesotho, which shares a transmitter with the four radio stations, had not been affected.
Harvest Fm director and manager, ’Malichaba Lekhoaba, said her station was switched off following her meeting with the acting principal secretary in the Ministry of Communications, Ratokelo Nkoka, on Tuesday.
She said the meeting was also attended by the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) officials and the ministry’s chief engineer, Motlatsi Monyane. LCA regulates radio stations and telecommunications industry.
Lekhoaba said officials from other radio stations were supposed to attend the meeting but when they did not pitch up “I was ordered in and was met by Nkoka and others”.
Lekhoaba said Nkoka told her that her station was broadcasting “inciting material and warned that this could lead to its closure”.
“I told him to stop threatening me,” Lekhoaba said.
“I asked him to be precise as to what he was actually talking about as this would help me rectify my mistakes but instead he told me that he would just give a directive to the LCA to shut us down.”
“Nkoka threatened to close us down and indeed it’s exactly what happened. I was told that this matter (our meeting) was not for public consumption and I was not to make it a news item. I obliged and kept my promise but he backed on his part of the deal.”
Lekhoaba said what gave weight to their suspicions that they had been targeted is that Radio Lesotho and Jesu ke Karabo (JKK), a Christian station, were not switched-off.
Ultimate FM, the government’s English radio station, was also not affected.
Joy FM and Catholic Radio were also not affected.
Lekhoaba said: “Is it coincidental that after the threats I received all private radio stations connected to Radio Lesotho’s transmitter go off air except Jesu ke Karabo and Radio Lesotho?”
PC FM and Mo Afrika radio stations also confirmed the black out.
Nkoka said he was not aware that the radio stations were off air but added that “even if they are, this does not call for their listeners to strip naked and parade in the streets”.
“They (private stations) are enjoying a ride on our back by using our frequencies and yet they are insulting us,” Nkoka said.
“What would you do if you were in our shoes?”
Monyane, the chief engineer in the communications ministry, said he was not aware that the four private radio stations had been switched off.
“But they are not the only ones, even Radio Lesotho has also gone off air,” he said.
Monyane said his engineers had informed him that the “switch off was a result of a technical problem”.
We tuned in to Radio Lesotho to verify his claim that it too had been affected by the technical problem but found that it was working fine.
The stations were back on air around 4:45 pm yesterday.
Nkoka said a meeting of principal secretaries had earlier in the day asked him to remind representatives of the four stations to adhere to their professional ethics.
He however denied allegations that he had actually been told to shut down the stations.
“There is no hidden agenda here. I never mentioned anything about closing down radio stations,” he said.
“Radio stations have a mandate to advocate for peace and not to incite. The power of radio can be very destructive. We surely do not want a repeat of 1998 riots where Maseru went up in flames.”
“We only have one Lesotho and it is not deposited in a bank, waiting to be withdrawn when calm has been restored.”
Nkoka also said the meeting with the station managers “was to remind them and their programme producers that they have an obligation to regulate the way their callers and hosts talked”.
“For instance, I was called a liar by some callers on one radio station. Given that the matter (his meeting with station managers) was not meant for public and they have told you, I have come to the conclusion that these station managers are liars who cannot be trusted with anything,” he added.

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