Not so pretty a picture

Not so pretty a picture

TWO weeks ago the government shut down controversial private radio station, MoAfrika FM, allegedly over a M100 000 debt to the Lesotho National Broadcasting Service (LNBS).
The decision to switch off the radio station has been met with howls of protest from civil society which accuses the new coalition government of heavy-handedness.

The civil society groups said the decision to shut down the station undermined the principles of good governance, democracy and human rights.
Although the radio station is now back on air, while waiting for the case to be heard in the High Court on September 15, it is critical that we add our voice over the matter.

While the government has pushed the line that MoAfrika was shut down over a debt, there is a very strong perception out in the public that there is more to the story than what meets the eye.
The perception is that this is a radio station under siege from its own government.
It’s not a pretty picture.
The general sentiment is that MoAfrika is being punished for taking an adversarial editorial stance against the new coalition government.
If that is so, then the coalition government, whose parties were elected on the promise of respect for democracy and a free press, must go on the charm offensive to undo the damage.
It must be remembered that no so long ago, the coalition parties that make up the current government, were in opposition. It is not surprising that they defended freedom of the media as a key tenet of a democratic society.
It would therefore be highly inconsistent on their part were they now to be seen to be shutting down voices of dissent at the slightest irritation.
Lesotho needs a free press more than ever. This country needs a vigilant media to keep those entrusted with the powers of governance in check. The media must be allowed a free reign to play its watchdog role.
A free press is necessary if we are to have a thriving democratic society. The press must be allowed to operate without fear or intimidation. The MoAfrika experience, however, can have a chilling effect on journalists and media owners in Lesotho.
Who would want to risk losing their broadcasting licence? The end result of such fears is a castrated media that fails to discharge its duties to society. That would be sad for Lesotho.
Over the last 50 years, benighted governments in Africa, particularly north of the Limpopo, have used their vast powers to silence dissenting voices, with disastrous consequences for their people.
Lesotho must not go that route.
The coalition government was elected on the basis of a promise that they would do better than the previous regime. This government still retains a lot of goodwill. That goodwill must not be squandered.
This of course is in no way a defence of the sometimes unprofessional, erratic and belligerent journalism at MoAfrika. We are fully conscious of the radio station’s unsettling flaws.
Yet no matter how obnoxious their journalism is, we still believe shutting down MoAfrika, even if it was for a debt, would send the wrong message to the people and the rest of the international community.
It would send a message that ours is a government that cannot tolerate dissenting voices. That would be sad.

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