This is not good for Lesotho’s image

This is not good for Lesotho’s image

THE closure of private radio station, MoAfrika FM, and the subsequent violent arrest and charging of its owner, Ratabane Ramainoane, last week are a matter of grave concern to us. Acting Communications Minister Thesele Maseribane accused MoAfrika FM in a statement last Wednesday of attempting to destabilise the country by broadcasting inflammatory statements.

The radio station was then barred from broadcasting for a period of 72 hours while the government “worked on the issue”. We will be the first to admit that MoAfrika FM, like most other private radio stations in Lesotho, has serious journalistic flaws. Too often, the radio station finds itself stooping below acceptable levels of decency.

Like most other radio stations, journalists at MoAfrika could do with better training to improve their journalism skills. Yet, nothing could ever justify the heavy-handedness by the police that was on show last Friday. The chaotic scenes that we saw at the Maseru Magistrates’ Court were totally uncalled for. We are not surprised that Amnesty International, one of the leading lights in the world in defending human rights, has described the closure of the station as an attempt to “harass and intimidate the country’s press”.

Amnesty International also condemned Ramainoane’s criminal defamation charge describing it as “spurious and cynical”. We believe the criminal defamation charge levelled against Ramainoane and the subsequent arrest could send a chilling message to journalists that they too must toe the line or face the music.

That is not good for Lesotho’s image. Criminal defamation is a tool that has been used successfully by repressive regimes in Africa to silence journalists. We do not want Lesotho to go that route.

We would like to believe the coalition government led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane still enjoys a lot of goodwill from the international community. This is a government that was swept into power on the back of promises that it would do better than its predecessor. It has an obligation to show it is different from the previous government it was criticising.

Radio stations such MoAfrika FM that have refused to toe the line will provide the sternest test to the government’s commitment to democracy and free speech. The government must not be found wanting.

The media will continue to step on the toes of the government. The government will be judged on the basis of how it reacts to such voices of dissension. We urge the government to exercise greater tolerance for dissenting voices. Divergent voices in the media must be allowed to flourish. It is good for democracy.

The government must therefore not join that cabal of regimes north of the Limpopo that are notorious for stifling dissenting voices. This government must demonstrate, both in word and deed, that it is committed to free speech and that it will not arbitrarily shut down radio stations it is not comfortable with.

In our opinion, what the radio stations need, all of them across the board, is a total change of tack. They must be weaned from spouting party politics. Those that continue to promote hate speech must go through a re-education process. The reality of the matter is that there is too much polarization in Lesotho. Such polarization is filtering down to the radio stations.

The politicians must have the courage to distance themselves from such stations and not allow them to push their agenda. This of course is old news. A 2015 report by African election observers raised similar concerns about the lack of professionalism at our radio stations. Something must be done to fix this.

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