Radio station must comply with ruling

Radio station must comply with ruling

Controversial private radio station, MoAfrika FM, was last Thursday fined M40 000 by the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) for breaching the country’s broadcasting regulations. The fine comes after MoAfrika FM began broadcasting a controversial drama depicting what the radio station alleged were atrocities that were committed by the Basotho National Party (BNP) when it was still in power in the 1970s and early 1980s.

The BNP, which took MoAfrika FM to the Broadcasting Dispute and Resolution Panel, argues that none of those atrocities ever happened. It says the alleged atrocities are a figment of MoAfrika’s fertile imagination. It was demanding M20 million from MoAfrika FM for defamation. In its ruling last Thursday, the panel ordered MoAfrika to pay a M40 000 fine and drop the airing of the controversial drama.

The radio station was also ordered not to commit a similar offence within the next 12 months or the LCA will revoke MoAfrika FM’s broadcasting licence. We think the decision to censure MoAfrika FM was long overdue. As we have argued in previous editorials, we remain very uncomfortable with the standards of broadcasting in Lesotho. Radio stations, across the board, are in the habit of broadcasting one-sided stories that show no respect for journalism standards and ethics.

Opinions are often elevated to the level of hard news. These are radio stations that are not ashamed to declare their political allegiance. Of course there is nothing wrong with that. Our only concern is when they begin to spout raw propaganda as news. The shocking lack of respect for journalism ethics, across all privately owned radio stations, has been a cause of concern to most people and election observers who visit the country during election times.

MoAfrika FM and the rest of the radio stations in Lesotho have been guilty of butchering broadcasting standards. The issues that the Broadcasting Dispute and Resolution Panel raises are valid, not just for MoAfrika FM, but for all radio stations operating in Lesotho. However, our only concern is that the M40 000 fine slapped on MoAfrika FM appears too steep for a struggling radio station. It could effectively threaten the commercial viability and continued presence of the radio station.

Of course, some might be tempted to dismiss MoAfrika FM as a nuisance on the air. They would obviously want it silenced, for good. While we might not agree entirely with MoAfrika FM’s editorial position, we will be the first to defend its right to continue to exist. Our position is that we need more plural voices in the media, offering as divergent an opinion as possible. There should be more players within the broadcasting sector, all being allowed to operate in a free market environment.

Only then can we gain a better understanding of issues in Lesotho. We have an inkling that MoAfrika FM might want to fight this ruling. We however urge the radio station to comply with the ruling as part of the plans to sanitize our broadcasting sector.

Any attempt to fight the ruling could worsen what is already a very toxic environment for the radio station. The best MoAfrika FM can do is to comply with the ruling and at the same time institute wider reforms to improve its broadcasting standards.

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