BNP, radio at war

. . . Police chief intervenes

KENEUOE NKUATSANA & STAFF REPORTERS

MASERU – The Commissioner of Police, Holomo Molibeli, has appealed for calm where political tensions seem to be boiling over and threatening to degenerate into crime. This follows a war of words between a radio presenter and members of the Basotho National Party (BNP) youth league who accuse the radio of attacking party leader Machesetsa Mofomobe. Tempers boiled over after a radio station presenter was accused of personally attacked the BNP leader.

At a press conference hosted by the BNP Youth League yesterday, its chairperson David Letela, took a swipe at what he described as “politicians masquerading as journalists for personal gain”. Letela said while BNP believes in a free press and media freedom, it does not take kindly to biased media houses which ignore the other side of a story.

He said he is aware that biased journalism can be dangerous for the lives of the citizens as it can potentially create havoc and undermine peace among communities, emphasising it was evident to anyone in the society that some media platforms are manned by politicians disguised as journalists.

Latela singled out 357 FM. “Arthur Majara, the owner of 357 FM and his reporter Lebohang Mateka are explicit examples of politicians masquerading as journalists,” Letela charged, adding that the two have publicly announced that they support the congress party movements and they openly fight the BNP and its leader Mofomobe through their radio station. He went on to claim it was crystal clear that this radio station is firmly set on attacking anyone who does not subscribe to their position, further pleading with the Lesotho Communication Authority (LCA) to take this matter seriously and to deal with it effectively and immediately because if they do not, the party youth would take matters into their own hands.

The youth leader even made open threats at the press conference saying they know how to deal with such journalists. Earlier in the week the radio presenter had in his morning talk-show threatened to open Pandora’s box and expose the BNP leader, but did not explain further. In his turn, the BNP leader had also broadcast a clip on social media firing back at the presenter in question and other radio stations, who he accused of embarking on a mission to tarnish characters of politicians.

Mofomobe said as long as there are media houses which are not prepared to change, even the envisaged media reforms under the broad-based national reforms would not achieve the desired outcome for the nation. “If we are honest as Basotho with the reforms, let’s also reform the media, otherwise we will fall into the same trap of Rwanda,” he said, referring to polarised radio stations in that country which fuelled the 1994 genocide in which about one million people were killed.

Police Chief Molibeli said police will act whenever peace is threatened. “These kinds of conflicts have long-term effects and we have to stop them. I am making an appeal where there are differing views, we should handle them with utmost maturity,” said the Commissioner, stressing where national order and peace is threatened, police will act. He said his appeal was aimed not only at the BNP but all Basotho leaders and politicians, especially as the country heads towards general elections next year.

“We need calm, we need law and order,” he said. Also commenting on the developments, Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Tšoinyana Rapapa, said there are laws in place and where there is misconduct, it will be dealt with in accordance with the available guiding norms. “We have our BDRP (Broadcasting Dispute Resolution Panel) where the media can be taken to if it operates against the code of conduct and the Communications Act, and we also have a code of conduct for political parties where they flaunt the set parameters,” said Rapapa, adding it would be a futile exercise if the central government was expected to weigh in where politicians are said to be out of order.

“You cannot expect me as a minister of this government to go in and try to intervene. I am a politician like the BNP leader, so he can easily dismiss me like that, and the same applies for the broadcaster,” he said. Rapapa believes it is time to test the existing laws to see how effective they are and start improving and tightening them accordingly. He also said the government was committed to seeing that the media environment in Lesotho is improved, so that there are measures in place to fill in legal and development gaps, while at the same time ensuring that the media operates in a responsible and professional manner.

While addressing a training workshop for broadcast media in Maseru on Wednesday this week, Rapapa had called for the review of the current legislative framework for the media sector as well as introduction of laws that will not only guide the country’s media to be professional but also protect the citizens from rogue media. He said in the spirit of the reforms, the government was already doing its part to ensure that the media policy becomes a national document and once adopted by parliament it would pave way for the necessary laws.

Among those laws he cited those that will see the establishment of the Press Council or Media Ombudsman, the adoption of the national media code of conduct, amendments to improve the Broadcasting Act, as well as legislations that will seek to bring sanity to the use of social media, other ICT’s platforms and networks. The National Director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Lesotho), Lekhetho Ntsukunyane said he was aware of the tensions between the party and a radio station.

“We are aware of the tension between BNP as a party and 357 FM employee and owner and we will organise a sitting and issue out a statement regarding this situation,” he said. MISA has previously expressed concern regarding journalists who seem to be embedded in political propaganda. In a previous statement, the media advocacy group said they are aware that some journalists are actively advancing political party agendas through their platforms, which is unethical.

In the statement, MISA-Lesotho expressed concern over the growing rate of misconduct by some journalists who actively meddle in the affairs of political parties under the guise that they are doing their job as media practitioners. In such cases, MISA-Lesotho said, journalists clearly campaign for or against certain political parties openly on social media platforms for personal gain. “These pseudo-journalists, MISA Lesotho observed, are either used by some political elites to propagate political party differences on social media, or are active politicians themselves masquerading as media professionals, abusing journalism as their channel into political recognition.

“They disregard and violate all ethical practices and conduct enshrined in journalism as they engage themselves in political party differences on social media – behaving much like foot soldiers for certain political elites. “It not only demeans the journalists’ credibility but the profession as a whole. They further expressed regret that it is when this unethical behaviour backfires, the journalists usually ask for refuge from MISA and they shall henceforth not harbour politicians who are impersonating journalists,” MISA said.

“Journalists allow themselves to be used by political leaders for personal gain,” Ntsukunyane said, adding that they use social media to propagate for these political parties so that they can be recognised by them. MISA is worried that this malpractice seems to be prevalent especially where personal gain is involved. The Editors Forum of Lesotho (EFL) had similarly weighed in on this trend, with the chairman, Teboho Khatebe Molefi, pointing out that pervasive meddling and political bias among news media. Molefi said the public has complained about this malpractice for some time now.

He said media political bias is prevalent in the mainstream media runs rampant, and has made its way into commentary of the state of news media “not only from political pundits but from journalists and radio presenters.” “Unbiased political media coverage is vital for a healthy democracy, and I believe most Basotho would want their news free from political bias, especially from journalists. “I believe that it is never acceptable for a news organisation or reporter to favour one political party over another when reporting news,” he continued.

Molefi added that journalists should uphold strong norms to eschew bias in their coverage of politics, and that despite their best attempts to maintain standards of objectivity parochial journalists choose to omit comment and views that do not tally with their own predispositions. He said: “What has to be heightened while addressing this problem is serious gatekeeping in the early stages of news generation…this is vitally important.

“In the main because this will help in filtering well what goes for public consumption because topics focused on the news influence what is on the political agenda and how people evaluate political information. After all, news media are integral to informing marginalised segments of the public about politics. Serious gatekeeping will also gag these politicians masquerading as journalists in our profession,” he said.

In an interview with Maketa, the controversial radio presenter did not have much to say, stating that he is “…yet to study the contents of the press conference conducted by the BNP youth, and that he shall address them on his radio show the next morning.”

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