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Lesotho ranks 5th in press freedom

Business

Staff Reporter

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Lesotho) continues festivities in celebration of the World Press Freedom marked annually on May 3.

In a statement released by MISA Lesotho this week, the institute highlights strides made by the country in the growth of the media as the Fourth Estate of Government.

“Towards closure of a week that marks celebration of the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) 2021 under the umbrella theme: Information as a Public Good, the Lesotho Chapter of Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Lesotho) issues this statement to highlight the state of affairs in the Mountain Kingdom, at glance.

“MISA Lesotho joined the rest of the world in celebrating WPFD 2021, mainly through live interviews on several local radio stations and the interactive social media on May 3, presenting an outlook of the Lesotho situation in terms of media freedom or lack thereof. It is befitting to further shape the viewpoint in a written word form for eased reference,” reads the statement in part.

It further indicates Lesotho’s stance on the global rankings for press freedom, a feat which calls for all hands to be on deck in the coming weeks, months and years in order to improve the country’s standings.

Lesotho appears number 88 worldwide in press freedom rankings, according to the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. It is further beaten in the sub region by Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Malawi to occupy fifth position in the Southern African region rankings.

“Worth noting, we moved two places back from being ranked the world’s number 86 by the same study in 2020. This reflection does not sit well with MISA Lesotho.

“Lesotho is a tiny and homogeneous Kingdom with population of just over two million. We are entirely landlocked by South Africa alone, which means South Africa is the only country we draw direct influence from. South Africa is ranked the world’s number 32 by the 2021 press freedom index, which means we are 56 places behind the country which has direct influence on us. South Africa appears number two in southern Africa after Namibia. This does not reflect well with MISA Lesotho.

“A country so homogeneous that the languages spoken are hardly four, with only two of them officialised, cannot afford to sustain a free press. Lesotho’s mainstream media sector consists of about 30 radio stations, 10 newspaper publications with one consistent magazine, two stable electronic media agencies and one state owned national television. Worth noting, free press is fundamental in the democratic dispensation. Free press denotes societal development.

“MISA Lesotho finds the following as key factors disturbing free press in this country:  Threats and intimidations posed to journalists by those who hold positions with power, more particularly politicians and law enforcement officers,  Infiltration of party politics into newsrooms, which distracts editorial independence and polarises the media sector,  Censorship and gagging of the media by the government, including to dangle a carrot by the government on the media through advertising,  Use of archaic, outmoded and media oppressive laws that intimidate the sector. These laws include Sedition Proclamation of 1938, Official Secrets Act of 1967, Internal Security Act of 1984, Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act of 1994 and many others, Failure by the government and parliament to approve or enact modern laws that are media friendly. For instance, a draft media policy that became a mantra by MISA Lesotho for over two decades, as well as the Access to and Receipt of Information Bill of 2000, to mention just a few, Failure by the government to transform the Lesotho National Broadcasting Service (LNBS) from state into public ownership” MISA said.

On a positive note, this year’s edition of the WPFD celebration comes a few days after the National Reforms Authority (NRA) adopted two policy documents that have a potential to free the country’s media sector from subjugation – a draft National Media Policy and draft National Code of Conduct, Behaviour and Practice.

The media sector has been identified as one of the key thematic areas for reform in the ongoing multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral national reforms currently driven by the NRA.

MISA Lesotho views the adoption of the two documents by the NRA plenary, following consultations with stakeholders, as a step closer to milestone, having lobbied and advocated for the government and parliament to approve and enact modern media laws for over two decades without success.

This year’s edition of the WPFD celebration coincided with 30th Anniversary of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent, Pluralistic and Diverse Press which gave birth to WPFD. The Windhoek Declaration, as commonly known in a short form, also gave birth to MISA Chapters in 11 African countries.

“Coming back home, this year’s WPFD celebration also marks 25 years since transformation of what used be called the Media Institute of Lesotho (MILES) – Media Resource Centre into MISA Lesotho in 1996. It is therefore salient to briefly reflect on noticeable strides that MISA Lesotho has made, as an advocacy and lobby nongovernmental organisation and a product of the Windhoek Declaration, to advance press freedom, independence, plurality and diversity” it said in conclusion.   

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