PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane has called on the media sector to work together in advocating for media reforms that would help regulate its operations, saying there was no place for exclusion of the predominant sectors such as the media in the reform process, which is expected to start soon.
Dr Thabane was speaking during a media briefing on the outcomes of a two-day 5th African Union – European Union Summit held in Ivory Coast last month.
He said the summit appreciated the critical role played by civil society organisations (CSOs) and the media in ensuring democracy, good governance and transparency.
Dr Thabane’s comments also came after the Southern African Development Community Observer Mission to Lesotho (SOMILES) explicitly stated that the Lesotho media needed to be reformed owing to its polarisation and unprofessionalism.
Despite the need to regulate the media, the government has excluded this critical sector, which has largely been used as a weapon to deal with opponents by some politicians, thereby contravening journalism ethics.
According to a report by SOMILES, over the years, the media has been awash with stories that threatened the political and security stability in Lesotho, many of them fake news.
“Most of these stories, especially those aired over some radio stations, were proved to be malicious and unfounded. Media transformation must be accounted for as part of the broader transformation process of Lesotho’s political culture and system,” read part of the 2015 report.
Asked why the media sector was being excluded from the reform agenda following an outcry by many users regarding unethical practices by some sections, Dr Thabane said while the government has a responsibility to protect the rights and freedoms of all people, other actors should also advise on other weak areas the government should target in the reform agenda.
“It is the responsibility of all role players to ensure inclusivity of the reforms and if the media feels it is being excluded from the reform agenda, it must quickly act and start asking questions on its inclusion in the reform agenda,” Dr Thabane said, adding the country was in the current situation due to politics of exclusion.
He charged that Lesotho must embrace inclusivity approaches that will not leave anyone behind if Basotho really need transformative solutions.
He said his government was working hard to ensure that the current developments included all stakeholders, adding, he was ready to take action in the event of senior government officials who may push for policies of exclusion, at times due to lack of knowledge on the importance of issues including the role played by the media in fostering good governance; and respect and protection of human rights.
He emphasised that investing in the media sector was a “smart investment” explaining that could only happen if both government and a united media acted in concert.
“I will ask a blatant question, are you as a media united in such a way that I can say to the world, this is the consolidated Lesotho media submission on this matter when I am confronted in New York? Are you in that position? I am not asking to corner you, I am asking so that we do self-introspection. Have you reached that stage, if you have not when do you intend to do so?”
Dr Thabane explained it was in the media’s best interest to work together in the development of a consolidated Concept Paper that would assist in guiding and informing the way forward in terms of its reformation.
“Let us be in this together and become partners on this journey. As the government, we think this is a serious issue and we should all be in concert,” he said.
Also present during the media briefing was the Government Secretary, Moahloli Mphaka, who pointed out that while the media may not be reflected during discussions on various platforms, it was part of a holistic reform process.
He said the government will soon outline the final reform agenda, which will include the media.
However, giving a brief on issues that emerged during the Ivory Coast Summit, Dr Thabane said the forum agreed that the army, police and national intelligence were an integral part of good governance with emphasis that the misuse of security agencies could cause grievous harm to any nation.
Giving Lesotho as an example, following the assassination of army commanders, Maaparankoe Mahao and Khoantle Motšomotšo, he said there was no military government in Lesotho.
“This government is not a military government, it is elected by the people through democratic elections. As of the military, they are a part of the administrative structure under government, and this also includes the National Security Services and the Police. They all answer to their ministers,” Dr Thabane said, adding that it was important that they understood their roles as there was no sensible investor that could invest in a country where soldiers kill their commanders.
He further said the summit highlighted that good governance and transparency attracted foreign investors and therefore leaders must work hard to create and maintain conducive environments for economic growth.
Dr Thabane said creation of such environments for economic growth also demanded that governments adopt zero tolerance approaches on corruption.
He said with regards to his government, his campaign to eliminate corruption was not going to spare anyone, regardless of their positions in government.
“We need to have a listening post, to avoid victimization and so that people can be free to blow the whistle on corrupt practices that have sadly become part of our society,” Dr Thabane said.
He said they were going to reform the army, the police and the intelligence and make sure there was implementation; and effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, which was of utmost importance.
Dr Thabane said there was rampant corruption in various sectors of the government. “I am not only warning those that are corrupt to stop their bad tendencies but also saying we are taking action by putting in place mechanisms that will help us to robustly fight corruption.”