MoAfrika back on air

MoAfrika back on air

MASERU– CONTROVERSIAL radio station, MoAfrika, is back on air after it won an interim order in the High Court yesterday. The government shut down the radio station on Saturday morning over a M100 000 transmission rental fee to the Lesotho National Broadcasting Service (LNBS). The station was shut down despite attempts by the management to negotiate payment terms. MoAfrika station manager Ratabane Ramainoane declined to comment.

However, Communications Minister Joang Molapo on his Facebook wall said the station was back on air because it settled its debt. The radio station was back on air yesterday before lunch-time. Molapo said this was after “the account of the radio station was settled in full today when we received confirmation from the Central Bank that cheques deposited had cleared”. He said by the time they reached court after 2pm, lawyers representing the ministry indicated that they had no intention to oppose the application which MoAfrika had filed in the High Court as the ministry had received its money in full.

The court, however, granted MoAfrika FM an interim order as sought. The case will be heard on September 15. The closure of MoAfrika had triggered an angry reaction from civil society organisations saying the decision to switch off the station undermined the principles of good governance, democracy and human rights. In a statement issued on Monday, the civil society groups said “we appreciate the fact that MoAfrika FM has not met its financial obligations” to the Lesotho National Broadcasting Services but “this does not augur well for the nature of democracy Basotho have demonstrated that they deserve”.

“As much as it is crucial that private broadcasting services stay true to their commitments, civil society realises that in the absence of a clearly defined and agreed standard of procedure and conduct, government turns to use this grey area to advance politically motivated sanctions,” the statement reads. Civil society groups said MoAfrika FM is “noticeably promoting dissenting views on government and is treated in a manner not so different from one of the local radio stations People’s Choice (PC) FM”.

In the case of PC FM three months ago, the radio station was perceived by the Democratic Congress-led coalition government as negative and representing the opposition’s voice.
They have further indicated that MoAfrika FM has a wide range of listenership and many informative programmes such as the crime alert (mokhosi) which they say “saves lives.”
The group believes that the circumstances under which the payment was demanded and handled leaves doubt on the intention.

They also appealed to Molapo to convene a meeting with radio station managers to hear a wide range of issues and concerns raised by managers and to agree on a framework of operation fitting the culture of peace in a democratic dispensation. “The framework should consider among others the plight of listeners who normally become victims,” the statement reads. This agreed framework should “ensure that the right to information as enshrined in Section of 14 of the Lesotho constitution is not curtailed in the LNBS-private broadcasting services using the government infrastructure.”

This is not MoAfrika’s first brush with the government. In November 2010, the radio station found itself in a bind after the Ministry of Communications demanded a staggering M200 000 in frequency rental fees. According to the then ministry’s chief engineer, Motlatsi Monyane, MoAfrika’s debt had ballooned over the past two years. In August 2011, the radio station, together with four other stations, was switched off for four hours for allegedly spreading lies and inciting people to join an illegal strike in the textile industry.

Zanele Hlongwane

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