Clean up radio stations

Clean up radio stations

OVER the past few months we have noticed a startling trend of dangerous rhetoric on our radio stations. Our radio stations have always been conduits for what at times has been unpalatable rhetoric.

But this time the purveyors of hate speech and reckless talk seem to have stepped up the ante and we are now tilting towards the precipice. We are now dealing with a toxic brand for which we don’t have an antidote.

Years back it used to be verbal attacks on politicians and political opponents. That wasn’t fair but not potent either. Politicians could take the blows and fight back, for they had the platform and the means to stand their own. Political opponents would push back with equal or worse insults.

Now it is open season and the parametres of the bile-laced vitriol have been extended. Margins have been pushed and floodgates flung open. Ambassadors, journalists and foreigners have now been thrown into the mix.

We are particularly gulled by recent statements suggesting that United States Ambassador Mathew Harrington should be kicked out of Lesotho for allegedly interfering in Lesotho’s internal affairs.

There have also been threats against journalists and foreigners in general.

We believe it is time to encourage tolerance and that we all carefully measure our words.

Tsenolo FM, the radio station that has been accused of spreading hate speech, should know better. That it doesn’t should worry any sane person.

Yet Tsenoli is not the only player in this perilous game. Indeed other radio stations have joined in the stampede. If their presenters are not going hysterical then they are allowing callers to go over the top with their attacks. They are fanning fires they are neither ready nor equipped to put out.

The Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) cannot be accused of not trying to rein in such wayward behaviour. Why its efforts seem to have failed to bring sanity on our airwaves is a function of how the law had been couched.

The LCA intervenes when there is a complainant. And therein lies the weakness. Just because a person attacked on radio has not complained doesn’t mean a transgression has not been committed.

Not everyone who is a subject of insults, hate speech and libellous utterances complains. That is because most have no time to listen to what our radio stations are saying about them.

And even if they do they might loath to involve themselves in fights against radio stations that have little respect of human decency, objectiveness and fairness.

So how can the LCA restore order?

That is the difficult part because the regulator has to balance freedom of expression against many other rights that are equally important. We believe a routine sampling of radio programmes might help.

Punitive fines are not recommended unless there are signs of recklessness on the part of the offending radio station.

Perhaps the answer lies in stringent controls on who gets to sit behind the microphone and interact with the public. Indeed our studios are manned by people who don’t have an iota of understanding of how radio stations work, the ethics that should guide their operations and the responsibility they have to society.

We are not saying the door should be shut on talented but unqualified presenters. The point is that there should be a through training for them before they are thrust into the studio.

Once we have trained them we also need to deal with irresponsible prominent people who use radio stations to spread hate speech. Only then can we begin to clean our radio stations.

Let’s start now.

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