Golden professional ethics vs pomp in Lesotho’s media today



The seeming great achievement of the self-declared national genius, Mr Arthur Majara, of 357FM in drawing attention to himself in the name of defending media ethics this past week has highlighted the vulnerability of the media to prostitution by its opportunistic infiltrators and detractors.

Here I will take issue with only two points which Mr Majara holds out as his own gallantry in upholding media ethics and legal protection of the media from abuse by powerful personalities.

Mr Majara thinks he has discretion to badmouth fellow citizens just because in the ongoing case with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) leader Professor Nqosa Mahao they are public figures, and he has no obligation to provide the broadcast regulator and the complainant with broadcast to enable adjudication to proceed on the basis of concrete grasp of the content of the presumably offensive material.

At one point he says this is because the regulations of the oversight body, the Broadcasting Dispute Resolution Panel (BDRP) say, when the broadcaster is so requested, “the record shall not be unreasonably withheld” (which he takes to mean withholding is anticipates and allowed).

He further says he would have to extract sensitive material before releasing the record, and further still that the record would be open to abuse and dirty tricks of this particular complainant who is known for terrorising the media and pocketing the courts. And lastly that he, Mr Majara, won’t be cowed by the oversight body whose personnel were appointed by the outgoing Basotho National Party (BNP) leader who is in cahoots with the complainant as witnessed by their concerted campaign to defeat the Bill meant to establish a national peace and unity commission.

The veteran radio commentator says the BDRP of the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) was wrong in ordering that he should release the transcripts to the complainant and the panel to enable the investigation to proceed. He contends it should, instead, have adjourned to write a report for forwarding to the LCA, which is the one to decide after considering the panel’s advice. This, he says, would take a long time of up to 90 days, and the complainant should suffer the pain and lie in the bed he has made for himself.

He swears on his radio station and on ACLFM where he was interviewed with the complainant on Wednesday, August 11, that he will go through the hierarchy of courts defending his stance, “unless he (complainant) seeks an amicable solution, but knowing his narcissistic character, I can pay you if he ever does that!”

From the exchange it is clear that the complainant’s effort at amicable settlement by studying the record with the alleged aggressor had so far failed. Yet that avenue is still preferable in any broadcasting dispute where a genuine error of discharge of a function occurs or where the leadership of a radio station has the moral fibre that it takes to arrive at harmony.

In July 2019 a veteran broadcaster at Tšenolo FM, the late Mr Motumi Ralejoe, deliberately played back an April 2014 public rally speech of the then Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane against the conspiracy of his then deputy, Mr Mothetjoa Metsing, and the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC)C to pass a vote of no confidence in him.

There he said he didn’t come into this life to be trusted by anybody, and he never asked for their trust, and whether they conferred that honour on him or took it away was their business and none of his worries.

Now Mr Ralejoe played this back pretending it was done at Koro-koro on July 14, 2019, some five years and four months later, and invited listeners to flog Prime Minister Thabane for his arrogance in the face of reconciliation efforts with his fellow All Basotho Convention (ABC) parliamentarians and some of their new-found opposition allies – including what was supposed to be a unity rally between Thabane and his estranged deputy leader Nqosa Mahao that day.

Mr Ralejoe knew this was an old recording, for he was a leading parliamentarian of the ABC when it happened (before crossing to the DC), and he could only be aware of the playback of the actual Koro-Koro recording on various radio stations and audio clips throughout Sunday evening into Monday night when he went on air.

After my complaint as Government Spokesperson to the station, then to the BDRP, the station owner found our common buddy to mediate and we found common ground, where he said his management team had since listened to the broadcast recording and was ready to instruct the talk show host to apologise on air on the next talk show.

In short, the fellow finally did a highly twisted withdrawal after two completely deceitful “attempts” while we monitored the broadcast with the station owner on the day, but I thought that sufficed given the position he had riveted himself into.

It was suddenly very much steep on his part, whereas disparaging Prime Minister Thabane on the basis only that he was a politician and prime minister, and therefore, fair game, was everyone’s birthday party.

Now, despite repeatedly joining his boss in amply scorning, belittling, and taunting the complainant on his radio station, the host of the talk show whose transcripts are wanted, Mr Lebohang Maketa the following day on Thursday, August 12 averred that he never abused complainant on air.

Mr Maketa further said given enough time on ACLFM the previous day he would have disabused the complainant of his conviction that he had an obligation to name the source of the damning allegations that he was inciting soldiers to overthrow the command of the army – which was the subject of the complaint.

“He was lucky that, as he says, I told him that I picked that up from Liotloana News Agency (a social media “gutter press” platform), but I had no obligation to. As journalists we are free to discuss any public figure without informing them, and we’re sworn to die protecting the identity of our sources,” Mr Maketa said.

There is very little truth to this assertion as a journalistic ethic, which Mr Maketa wants to name it. Protection of sources as a journalistic ethic refers to the right of non-disclosure of persons that gave you actually existing, credible and highly explosive information of public interest. There is an actual, living story based on concrete information often evidenced by quotable non-human sources, without naming the human providers of such information.

No sane person can stretch or prostitute this principle to run a completely sourceless “news” story, then says/he is under oath to protect his or her sources which don’t even exist in the first place!

Where the human sources would be the sole sources, those not mentioned would be in the minority, but no news story would run with 100 percent faceless “sources” – it would amount to a fabrication! That principle can never mean all sources cannot be named at all times. When I was a news editor at a newspaper some years ago, there were hot stories we couldn’t run at the last minute because despite “all details” being in place, we couldn’t get second and third voices, especially in response to serious claims by first voice even if it was corroborated.

That is the demand of the ethic. Yet these days I am aware of a widely read local tabloid that will tell you of five, even eight, different unnamed sources, pretending the story is tight, and claiming literally all the sources cannot be named for their own protection.

My sense of ethic is that if none can be named, then the story cannot run because it doesn’t have credibility. Sometimes some of the sources can ultimately agree to be named weeks or even months later and only then can it be ethically and credibly run. That is the slavery to ethic which makes award-winning and highly influential and vastly credible media houses.

You cannot violate that by claiming the nation cannot wait, and only yourself can salvage it by proceeding on the strength of hazy sources and sensation. For surely your only resort here is sensation of badmouthing those who cannot be named, or who do not want to speak out, and projecting them or those apparently intimidating them into silence as enemies of the truth; or labeling those who don’t answer your sourceless claims as the ones seeking to silence and even throttle the media and therefore democracy.

This, in my view, is exactly the case in the Maketa-Mahao-Majara saga. Mr Maketa’s illusion is informed by Mr Majara’s summation of this slant, in a retort to a Mahao supporter on his own radio station: “He can go start his own radio station and do as he wishes there, not dictate to us what to do with ours. Let him start his own. But I bet he doesn’t have the money to do so!” But Mr Majara certainly knows he’s wrong; you don’t have the carte blanche to go about tearing down people’s names as you wish simply because you have your own radio station with which you can do as you like.

Radio is a public sphere which must satisfy requirements of a public good to be allowed to operate, hence its licensing conditions and the oversight body BDRP which he has in recent years proudly chaired himself. In that capacity, his panel awarded relief to the BNP, that MoAfrika FM shouldn’t continue broadcasting malicious propaganda against it in the name of a radio drama “reliving” the supposed state (BNP government) atrocities of the Qomatsi (State of Emergency) years of 1970/3.

The same radio station’s owner-manager had in those days said on air that the cause of the Congress parties he was supporting wouldn’t see a breakthrough unless towns were burnt down like in 1998, and explicitly said on air if they gave him M1 million only he would vilify “MaNazi” for them to hell and back!

Here MaNazi meant the BNP or anybody named after them for their supposed dark history, like the ABC, etc., outside what is for a time being considered a constellation of Congress parties, which changes rapidly according to emotion of the time!

The “gutter press” platforms like Liotloana, Hoatiti (now deservedly closed by Facebook) and others I won’t promote by naming, are usually vulgar partisan political platforms run by well-known foul mouths who routinely make extremely malicious, unsubstantiated claims about many do-gooders in our communities, usually on easily identified “specialist” radio stations – and raise these to completely naked levels on a stage like Liotloana.

Their composers enjoy this extremism, thanks to non-regulation of this sphere (Liotloana, etc) and the continuing anonymity that insulates them from the shame of being falsified, and from personal consequences and public humiliation – all of which they dish out with abandon to others.

When you lift such material out of the septic tank that is Liotloana etc, as Mr Maketa does, you are becoming a Liotloana agent, redeeming its shame-faced status, and lending it “credibility” – for it is common cause that despite its multiple blemishes, even 357FM calls itself a credible radio station.

Yet Mr Majara has been exuding this type of sewer rat “journalism” for many years indeed: from vainly trying to pull it off at the People’s Choice FM where he failed to drag down a brand which his brother, Motlatsi, had built to world class professionalism; to joining a similar crusade of evil at Tšenolo FM when it made its six-day morning talk shows only about vilifying the ABC leader, Thabane; down, to now spiritedly trying the same with former ABC deputy leader and now BAP leader, Nqosa Mahao, on 357 FM, to trash yet another elegant project of his brother.

Now, let’s bend to ethic and principle: if you take up such rotten material as Liotloana for broadcast, you know you are on slippery ground; at the very least you are prone to being baited and ending up selling your soul.

The recent social media exchanges involving Mr Maketa and some fanatics of the deputy prime minister’s Democratic Congress apparently buying broadcasters to do dirt on the party’s rivals suggest Mr Maketa could be passionately swimming in that wide, tempestuous, highly poisoned ocean.

It is a matter of conscience whether you use Liotloana etc as a credible spice for your broadcasts, not necessarily of ethic; but it starts becoming an ethical question when you peddle it without validation and consideration for its potential damage to the named persons, and even invite your listeners to amplify that, then deny the subject the right of reply and access to recordings to make representation of protest as per the rules of the game.

I dare say if the subject doesn’t accede to being quizzed about patently rotten content besmirching his or her image, whether it is ethical to proceed to publish it is a moot question, leaning on public interest; but only if enough weight from other supporting credible sources exists.

If not you are simply peddling rot, and refusal to surrender the evidence of your act by saying it contains sensitive material which must be extracted first, whereas it has already been widely broadcast by internet and radio frequencies and possibly by audio clips these days, is simply not an option.

It is also wrong to claim that journalists have license to abuse public figures at whim in the name of public good, and to assume that everything done by a journalist “on the beat”, or in the name of journalism, is for the public good.

When I was a government spokesperson I agreed with a state radio talk show producer that I would comment on air on the publicly expressed opinion of the then Attorney General that the now notorious Clause 10 memorandum signed between the government and the parliamentary opposition bloc was merely “a gentlemen’s agreement” with no force of law.

When the talk show host put me on air, she asked me about “some senior government officials” not the Attorney General, and I refused to answer the question, four times insisting that she named at least one such officer, and where s/he said so; till she abandoned the interview, repeating “but you talked about this with my producer.”

Which was incorrect, for we had talked about the Attorney General’s statement, of which I was aware, and I wasn’t going to make a fool of my high office and answer speculation. And I wasn’t going to say, “Oh, if you’re talking about the AG, I am aware …”. No, that would sound like interviewing myself for ulterior motives.

I wasn’t going to be caught in that trap. To this day I don’t know and I don’t even want to speculate as to why the broadcaster wasn’t going to name the Attorney General, but I knew that on that basis there wasn’t going to be an interview. At one point in that tenure I had to say to another radio interviewer, “If you can’t name your alleged source, just say you are the source, the suspecting party, it’s your job to suspect; then I will answer your question.”

Now Mr aketa says Prof Mahao should answer a claim by a patently partisan and malignant Liotloana of no known identity that he was meeting top commanders to stoke rebellion in the army! No, nobody, whatever their status and the name of their office, is obliged to answer the question: “Have you heard what nasty things people are saying about you? What can you say?”

Messrs Maketa and Majara and their cheerers claim that their conduct is a compulsion of the demands of pursuit of democracy where public figures must answer all claims made against them, and be scrutinised in all aspects of their lives. But this cannot stand scrutiny.

This convenient resort to these strong-arm Robin Hood tactics of the sole and last defender of democracy also exposes laziness, a lack of creativity, and outright dumbness. In my own experience, there are so many ways to handle and effectively use such material.

You could panel-beat it into hypothetical commentary with strong injection of value opinion among other ways, which gives you an entry point that you don’t have in an interview talkshow or news story where per ethic editorial or journalistic voice doesn’t feature. Yet those who run these sourceless stories actually add their own voices to a “news story” instead of waiting/arranging for the “facts” to be attested to by independent sources.

This is because the latter wouldn’t have the effect of wounding the dignity of the maligned person, which is a key goal of the likes of Mr Maketa and Mr Majara; yet it would in fact achieve a greater public good which they pretend to be chasing.

The so-called defense of democracy, in which the spinners of these unethical broadcasts are spurred by cliques of certain political parties’ well known hirelings dedicated to disparaging representatives of rival opinions, is also a see-through fig leaf.

Democracy is grounded on the compact of the constitution which protects every person’s individual dignity and personal integrity. That is what equality before the law and equal protection of the law means, among others. It can’t be decided by a single, loud-mouthed member of community who happens to enjoy ownership or control or operation of a radio station that you don’t deserve the same because you are a public figure or a subject of his interest, as Mr Majara explicitly proposes.

We are of course well aware of the limits to protection of privacy when it comes to public office holders or those contesting that space; but that in no way entails wanton violation of their personal dignity by the onlookers and monitors of that space, including the media.

Yet the profile of the executioners here will tell you this is not a simple, innocent journalistic slip but the harnessing of radio for dirty political ends and other nefarious private crusades. This Mr Majara did at People’s Choice FM and Tšenolo FM, concertedly smudging the public images of Messrs Vincent Moeketse Malebo of the Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) and Motsoahae Thabane of the ABC for allegedly (according to him) refusing to bail him out the last time he shamefully and hurriedly crashed out of the world of business.

As an ardent ideologue of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) whose leader promoted the uprising of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, and his coup attempt when Prime Minister Thabane removed him under the first coalition government of 2012, Mr Majara was one of the cheerleaders of Kamoli’s blood-trailed second coming on a Saturday morning talk show ‘Lititimi’ at Tšenolo FM, with some well-known Congress parties’ apparatchiks, culminating in that ominous October 2016 ‘all-Congress’ march (eminently boycotted by the DC) to State House to honour Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and Commander Kamoli, with an LDF helicopter overflying the marchers chanting “Ntate Kamoli re mo ratela’ng? O li etsa a li emela”– roughly meaning they loved Kamoli because he was man enough to stand and fight the battles he started.

Nearly four years since his arrest and arraignment on charges of murder and attempted coup, Kamoli is still busy fighting to get out of courts on flimsy claims of prolonged detention without prosecution (prompted by his own forest of excuses and applications for postponement) and, therefore, denial of justice; instead of living up to the words of the song and head-butting the charges and boldly telling us he was right and he’d repeat that if he returned.

As happens in all such cases, Kamoli is now all alone. Mr Majara and his radio station have been emotionally promoting that rickety amnesty bill for Kamoli’s release, which received such scorching national rejection in “unsolicited” media discussions and at the recent national peace architecture dialogue forum that its chief sponsors in South Africa and its SADC Facilitation Team and the maverick EU Ambassador to Lesotho have for now retreated with a bloody nose.

As Facilitation Team leader, Judge Dikgang Moseneke, and LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing have explicitly said, this Bill is targeting the release of Kamoli & Co, and in their latest court bid these potential beneficiaries challenged continued retention of the foreign prosecutor, alleging he was seen whispering with the selfsame Nqosa Mahao (who is the much maligned brother of the slain army commander Maaparankoe with whose murder some are charged), who in turn was allegedly espied talking with a member of the incumbent army command.

Now Messers Maketa and Majara are vainly trying to stoke the fires of mistrust, disloyalty, insubordination and divisions in the army the same way that Mr Majara & Co carved the path that brought us to where we are today – where Kamoli is languishing in prison alone and Mr Majara is wickedly pontificating in his name.

If nothing else, we now know the consequences of interfering in the affairs of the army by private radio involving Mr Majara & Co, in the name of insulating the national army from politics. As for the young Mr Maketa, who boasts on air that “Prof, ke hona re tlil’o u patlotsa” (meaning “we are still going to spank you even more, Prof”), his pot shots at Prof Mahao in underhand politics of sycophancy and opportunism are now legend.

When we thought the new-found unity of the ABC was gelling after one year of Thabane rejecting the democratically elected committee and particularly his deputy in Prof Mahao, under the spell of his vixen wife Liabiloe, Maketa owned up to making the widely publicised phone call to Liabiloe enjoining her to prevail on Thabane to form a new party and pull the carpet under the ABC, instead of allowing Prof Mahao to inherit his party.

Liabiloe memorably asked Mr Maketa whether he had already touched base with the notorious late Kethabile Mokete, alias Mosotho Chakela, whose run-ins with the law together with Liabiloe are now also legend.

In short, living in this space with these two chameleonic fellow citizens, it would be very hard for many a far-minded observer to believe that they entered what has since become their fracas with Prof Mahao with clean hands.

In conclusion, the eternal tragedy is that at all times those who thought they could resolve these questions by shouting loudest and longest have ended up in eternal silence (not death) and faded away and disappeared forever from all memory, because the level-field frameworks and oversight bodies, from regulators to courts, are wont to show them no mercy in the upholding of the integrity of a civilized community.

A once very bold and moral compass newspaper The Mirror shut down after losing a defamation lawsuit to an MFP leader. The equally influential Public Eye newspaper could easily have followed if several hundred thousand Maloti penalty which came almost a decade after the commencement of proceedings against it by deputy vice-chancellor of the National University of Lesotho hadn’t found it as sturdy as it had since become.

Long before these two, the firebrand Moafrika tabloid, which predated the similarly named radio station, survived after it secured clemency in a mediation with the complainant Basutoland Congress Party legislator who defeated it in court.

I have come to know of some media house owners here and abroad who trade in these transgressions, and instruct their staff accordingly, for the local and international sympathy fundraising it can achieve from the “friends of media freedom” and defenders of democracy”, but I tell you, you’re walking on a razor edge there. Adios.

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