Restore confidence in media

I AM sometimes dismayed by the quality of broadcasting in Lesotho both in terms of form and content.

Lesotho has a single television station whose programme content and delivery of programmes is largely mediocre.

The present state of affairs within the broadcasting sector is largely due to two issues – lack of technical expertise and the continued stringent government control.

Of all the 10 radio stations operating in Lesotho only the state-controlled Radio Lesotho has full national coverage reaching all the corners of the country.

The programmes that we see on Lesotho Television are of a poor quality and lack the creativity that we would expect from a national broadcaster.

I received a lot of stick from Communications Minister Mothejoa Metsing when I said the country was lagging behind the democratisation agenda.

But when a national broadcaster is used unfairly to promote the ruling party then we must all admit that we have a serious problem.

There is a perception that Metsing as Minister of Communications does influence how state media report the news.

The Lesotho News Agency (Lena) is an instrument of the government of the day to portray issues from the side of the government.

We have all seen how the news agency reports news to suit the ruling party and neglects to give the side of the opposition.

There is a perception that the government is still heavily involved in the censoring of news about opposition parties in Lesotho.

This means that our democracy is in peril. Our democracy is not vibrant at all.

The right of the media to air  views from all the competing sides is an important indicator of a country’s democracy.

Why should we say we are a democratic country when there is interference in what the media reports?

I argued in an earlier article that while Lesotho conducts elections regularly the level of democracy in the country still leaves a lot to be desired.

Our national media should be allowed to report all news no matter how critical.

This is the only way citizens can be enlightened and empowered to make decisions about issues of national importance.

Citizens do not want to be deprived of pertinent news that affects their lives just because the news involves opposition parties.

Any foreigner who arrives in Lesotho right now and listens to Radio Lesotho would swear that there is only one political party in the country.

This is the same situation that existed in the run-up to the 2007 general elections.

During that period opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) party leader, Tom Thabane, was subjected to a total media black-out by the state media.

Thabane was given very little media coverage by the national media when the party’s formation was big news in Lesotho.

The ABC leader was left with no choice but to opt to the South African Broadcasting Corporation to present his vision to the nation.

This kind of reporting by Radio Lesotho and Lesotho Television was a national disgrace and detrimental to our political development.

For example, two weeks ago I only learned from a colleague that the ABC had a rally in Likalaneng. But on Radio Lesotho station there was what appeared to be an over-saturation of news regarding a rally by the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party in Maputsoe.

At that rally scores of former ABC members who rejoined the ruling party were paraded to supporters. We heard about everything that took place at the LCD rally in Maputsoe which was broadcast on radio.

I would have wanted to hear what happened at the ABC rally from our national broadcaster.

It is interesting to see that when the opposition is in trouble and party supporters cross over to the LCD that is the only moment when Lesotho TV and Radio Lesotho cover the story.

This is factional reporting. It is meant to indoctrinate people.

I suppose this is what the ABC would do under similar circumstances as we saw what happened during the days of the Basotho National Party (BNP) in the 1970s and 80s.

The politicisation of the national media is an African scourge.

While the ABC is facing serious internal problems it does not have any public media to manage the crisis.

Without fair national coverage the ABC is as good as buried.

The few private broadcasters that we have are also guilty of the same crimes committed by the national broadcaster.

For example, PC FM, Catholic Radio and Harvest FM radio stations have become partisan radio stations openly supporting the ABC.

It is therefore important to ask: Will our broadcasters ever report news beyond simple party lines?

Both public media and privately run media must redeem themselves and restore confidence in the media.

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