Are journalists a threat to the country’s information environment?
Public discourse suggests two interrelated realities that compromise the local information space, insipid public and private media as well as rampant falsehoods which stoke social, political and other divides in the country.
Private media is growing and is less dependent on state controlled production, meaning the country needs journalists who can fulfill an independent watchdog role and set best practices, but it seems the media is becoming largely unreliable, propagandist according to the public it serves…leading to the same public finding alternative news sources, deriving their news from social media and other questionable sources, where disinformation and misinformation fuel the aforementioned tensions.
Public Eye reporter, MATHATISI SEBUSI (PE) asked National Reforms Authority Technical Committee on Media Reforms chairman, NKOALE OETSI TŠOANA (NT) how the country’s ongoing reforms, that include the media, are envisaged to rein in and ensure media practitioners remained true to their mandate.
PE: Congratulation sir on your being tasked with heading the Technical Committee on Media Reforms?
NT: Thanks a lot.
PE: When we talk of the media, what should come to the mind of an ordinary citizen in our country’s villages?
NT: These are simply means or channels of communication such as radio, newspapers, TV, magazine the internet etc.
PE: We are in an era in which the so-called social media seems to be taking over as a force in information dissemination, as national agenda setter and a point of reference; how do you explain the two information dissemination conduits, and what sets one apart from the other?
NT: Social media reaches a maximum audience while ‘traditional’ media’s audience is generally more targeted. Social media is a two way conversation, whereas traditional is one way. Social media often has unreliable demographic data, but traditional media’s is more accurate.
PE: And your general views on social media and its impact on people’s everyday life, against mainstream media?
NT: People who get news primarily through social media tend to be less well-informed and more likely to be exposed to unproven claims. Social media is also slowly killing real activism and replacing it with “slaktivism”.
Lack of privacy- stalking, identity, personal attacks and misuse of information are some of the threats faced by social media users and it has been blamed for promoting social ills such as cyber bullying. However, job candidates who develop skills in the latest and most advanced social media techniques are far more employable.
PE: Looking at the country’s media landscape and tales surrounding its conduct, can you deny that we have a politically charged and highly polarized media?
NT: That is exactly the reason for media reforms.
PE: Is the media as independent as practitioners claim?
NT: Do they claim that? What are their reasons?
PE: The Technical Committee on Media Reforms. This is supposed to be the arm of the NRA in the media sector thematic area in line with resolutions and decisions of Plenary II, who makes up the committee and how were they selected?
NT: You are correct that the Technical Committee on Media Reforms is an arm of the NRA in line with the NRA Regulations of 2020. Members of the committees are not selected but elected per the NRA structure.
The structure, excluding the Secretariat, is made of political parties in parliament as opposition, those outside of parliament as well those that have formed government – all these were registered with the Independent Electoral Commission when the Authority was founded. We have civil society bodies, chiefs as well as government.
Each of the sectors meets to nominate one person who will represent their interests in each of the committees. The names of those nominated are then forwarded to the NRA chairperson to publicly announce the nominees, following which respective committee’s sitting are declared and each nominee goes where they have been tasked. In each sitting of the six committees a chairperson is elected, and is mandated to ensure subsequent sittings are held and guides the committee in fulfilling the given mandate.
PE: What is your mandate?
NT: To exercise oversight over the activities of the Thematic Area of Media in line with the mandate conferred on the NRA, by the NRA Act 4/2019, and to also assist the NRA in fulfilling its oversight responsibilities on technical matters related to media reforms.
PE: How do you plan to engage media practitioners, as stakeholders, as we enter into reforming this profession?
NT: We have Media Sector Reforms Operational Plan. It states how media is going to be engaged as stake holders in the entire process. For instance we developed media reform education programme intended for media houses. Soon we are going to develop media reforms committee constituted of media representatives from the entire media sector.
PE: The media and politics, it has been labeled a dangerous combination; what do you say?
NT: This is subjective, it all depends on individuals and how they see it.
PE: And on practicing media workers being handpicked for political government deployment, what does that say to you as a journalist and given the task to reform the fraternity?
NT: there is nothing wrong with journalists leaving the profession for political or government positions, but such a journalist should be fully aware that they do so prepares that they are relinquishing their role as journalists; and this is what public opinion says in the reports that are contained in this thematic area and that need to be incorporated in the envisaged media reforms.
PE: Are journalists in the country bribed or promised handsome freebies to advance particular political interests; you live in this town and must have heard such talk and names mentioned by the public?
NT: The Media Barometer reports have revealed that some journalists do receive bribes but without mentioning their names.
PE: In the not so distant past a debate emerged with the fraternity itself, local and foreign practitioners – does the industry have a tinge of xenophobia, are local journalists xenophobic?
NT: Not at all. The country’s journalists are highly sociable with their colleagues from around the globe.
PE: It is an undeniable reality that the profession doesn’t pay in the country, looking at almost all media houses and practitioners’ wellbeing, except for those lucky to get extramural connections; how can the profession be made respectable in that regard?
NT: Reforms are an answer to that.
PE: The journalists’ bodies and/or unions we have, are they effective, and if not why?
NT: They are effective depending on their mandates.
PE: Coming from the Plenary II several issues emerged which I would like you to briefly get in to. Firstly, the establishment of effective and independent media and communication institutions that execute their mandate as expected by society, how are you going to achieve this?
NT: By making them independent.
PE: Building media sector capacity to perform its core duties effectively, professionally and ethically as expected by society is another key issue that the nation wants to see delved into earnestly, what should we expect?
NT: You should expect proposals of Bills from my committee establishing the journalism institutions.
PE: As things stand, can you say media practitioners protect the sanctity of the profession, per expected ethical and professional conduct and practice?
NT: Some are still on track while others are totally off-track.
PE: While the media is itself in grapples with reforming, should we expect them to remain focused on the country’s development and general reform agenda – how will that be ensured?
NT: Yes, we expect them to remain focused. The committee and the NRA is tailoring programmes aimed at assisting them to stay focused.
PE: The media still operates without legislative and policy frameworks for the local media, how has this impacted on the quality of practitioners’ work and how should we expect the reforms process to address this?
NT: It impacted badly hence proposal to create an effective media regulatory regime.
PE: Where do you see the industry in five years, post reforms?
NT: It will be a profession that can be trusted to play its watchdog role effectively to assist Lesotho transform to a just, prosperous, and stable country where human rights are respected, where there is rule of law and where there is good governance.