The media is not the enemy

The media is not the enemy

WE wish to acknowledge the apology issued by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lt Gen Mojalefa Letsoela after one his subordinates, Lt Col Mashili Mashili, issued threats to a Lesotho Times journalist, Pascalinah Kabi.
It must have taken Lt Gen Letsoela much soul-searching and great humility to pen that apology.

Having apologised for his subordinate’s indiscretion, we do not feel it is prudent to go on the attack and blast the army for threatening Kabi in the first place. That would be counter-productive.
However, the army’s apology presents an opportunity for introspection regarding the relationship between the army and the media in Lesotho.
Admittedly, relations have not always been good over the years. Perhaps the biggest incident that comes to mind is the almost fatal shooting of Lesotho Times editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, by supposedly rogue elements of the LDF two years ago.

Mutungamiri, who was lucky to survive the shooting, now has permanent injuries and remains too traumatised to resume his duties as a journalist. He might never recover from that incident.
Nothing short of an outright apology by the army, as an institution, and a massive financial compensation will soothe his wounds.
It was against this background that the media in Lesotho and the rest of the international community were horrified by Lt Col Mashili’s open threats against a journalist who was merely doing her job.

Any threats will have a chilling effect on journalists. Such threats will ultimately hurt society in its quest to access information.
And we know that an informed society is crucial to any functional democracy.
That is why we want to commend the army command for moving swiftly to apologise. It took guts to do so. The LDF must re-assure the nation that it is a reformed institution that will not seek to use guns against unarmed civilians.

From our interactions with Lt Col Mashili, we note that Lt Col Mashili is an extremely smart fellow. He is articulate. He is a suave. That is why we found it difficult to reconcile his statement with the public persona that he has driven since he assumed the reins as the army spokesman.
We will resist the temptation to seek to educate to the army the role of the media in a democratic society, save for a few reminders.
We all know that the media plays a critical role in the consolidation of democracy.

It must therefore be allowed a free rein to perform its duties without intimidation or harassment.
Of course, we are not asking for a free rein to practice our profession without due consideration for national security. We are fully cognizant of our limitations in that regard.
Where issues of national security come into play, we will play our role as journalists responsibly.
That is all that we for ask as journalists.

If there are any lessons to be learnt from this episode, it is that the LDF must watch its language when communicating with civilians.
The use of belligerent language will not do any good to army-civilian relations.
We however believe the army is on a path of reform. We would like to believe that the rogue elements, who did so much to damage the LDF’s reputation in the past, have been contained.

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