‘Foreign journos distort the Lesotho story’

 Thabane’s SPS says local editors should control Lesotho’s media

BONGIWE ZIHLANGU

MASERU – A former prominent Lesotho journalist and current Senior Private Secretary (SPS) to Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane, Thabo Thakalekoala, says it is wrong that the “Lesotho story” should be told from a foreigner’s perspective, especially in the print media. Speaking to Public Eye in an exclusive interview this week, Thakalekoala, 58, said Basotho editors were just as capable and it was time they controlled newsrooms and processed content.

He said such responsibilities have largely been left to expatriate editors, who usually distorted the Lesotho story because “many are here only on business.” According to Thakalekoala, Basotho editors should set the agenda and process content because they understand the country’s landscape and political dynamics better.

That Lesotho’s major newspapers are manned by foreign editors, Thakalekoala added, should be opened for debate with a view to shifting the paradigm. “It is wrong that the story of our country is being told from the perspective of foreigners. Actually, we should do away with foreign editors and have our own people telling Lesotho’s stories,” Thakalekoala said. “We should have Basotho controlling newsrooms and being in charge of processing news content.”

Thakalekoala further expressed concern that major newspapers in Lesotho were either owned or controlled by foreigners, blaming this on the country lacking a developed media industry, adding that the National University of Lesotho (NUL) should seriously look into introducing an exclusive journalism programme “to cultivate professional media practitioners and future editors”.

“Most major newspapers in this country, if not all of them, are controlled by foreigners due to the lack of a developed media. It is the duty of the NUL to take media seriously by introducing an exclusive programme in journalism,” Thakalekoala said. “This is because, whether we like it or not, no country in this day and age can develop without media. The media is a catalyst for development in any country all over the world.”

Moreover, Thakalekoala, who is a former Chairperson of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho chapter and also served as MISA regional chairperson, said the country’s media industry was failing to develop as a result of “foreigners who twist and distort the story of our country”. He said foreign editors perpetuated sensation and selling the negative side of Lesotho when there were positives that were worth telling adding “I’m talking about the so-called stories that don’t sell the paper”.

“The media is where it is today because of foreigners who distort the story of our country. With all due respect, some of them are very good while some are only here to make business. They just don’t give a damn what they write about our country. “They don’t look at the positive side of Lesotho but are always focusing on the ugly side. The negative things always make headlines, overshadowing the many positive things that this country is doing, not necessarily in government,” Thakalekoala said.

“When you go out to Basotho villages in the rural areas, there are people defying the odds and rising above hunger and abject poverty. But those are the so-called stories that don’t sell the paper. “You hardly find such stories in our papers. Instead you will find sensational political stories, how our economy is bad, etc. “You don’t find stories that inspire people, stories that give hope. It might not be all of them, but most foreigners whether based in Lesotho or outside, only always look at the bad side of our country.”

The onus in on Basotho journalists, he stressed, to stand up and protect their profession, their stories and country adding “I’m not even saying that journalists should not write about politics or negative stories because they are there. I am merely saying they should strike a balance.” However, Thakalekoala also noted that because Lesotho’s media industry was porous “every Jack and Jill think they can become journalists to put food on the table.”

“I don’t want to sound arrogant but it so happens that most people who join the media fraternity in this country, do so not as a calling but because they cannot find jobs elsewhere. They join the field just to put food on the table. “But journalism is not a chance career. Journalism is a calling. There should be something in you that tells you that you have an obligation to tell the stories of your people and country,” he said.

Meanwhile, speaking to Public Eye on Tuesday this week, MISA Director Lekhetho Ntsukunyane averred sensitive as it was, the discussion on foreign editors dominating Lesotho’s print media had been brought up at different forums but that it had not been lobbied strongly enough to influence a significant shift. Ntsukunyane added that while issues of gate-keeping and ownership had been talked about over time, it was still not yet clear how Basotho would eventually be at the helm, particularly in the newspaper industry.

“This issue is quite sensitive. It has been raised at three or four forums, with focus being on ownership and in the editorial department leadership. It was raised that foreigners dominated newsrooms,” Ntsukunyane said.

“It was raised by different people such as experts and media practitioners alike. But we cannot exactly say it has been lobbied strongly enough to give it weight. It has not yet gained momentum. “It has not reached a point where we can say, this is what needs to be done to enable Basotho to own newspapers or become gate-keepers on the same. But we are aware of such concerns.” Expectation was that in 2020, NUL would introduce a Degree in Journalism aimed at closing the gap, supported with funds by the US Embassy.

But, Ntsukunyane told this paper that it was not yet clear if the programme would be availed in the current academic year. “As MISA, we have observed that there are problems regarding that programme. We are concerned and want to find a clear standpoint. We had actually hoped that it would begin last year,” Ntsukunyane said.

“Unfortunately, we have also noted that the programme has not yet been approved. However, there are chances of it being approved provisionally to assess its viability. “The question is whether it is going to be offered full-time or part-time, at both NUL and its IEMS campus. As MISA, we feel it is imperative it is offered at both campuses.”

Asked what MISA thought of the current media landscape in Lesotho, Ntsukunyane noted that available data did not “give a positive picture”. “It is not a positive picture at all. We don’t have the luxury of a developed media and it seems that it will be a long time before we realise that. I mean, Lesotho does not even have a daily newspaper,” he said.

However, Ntsukunyane was quick to note that adding to the woes was that Lesotho’s media struggled to retain professionally trained practitioners who were constantly lost to public relations or the state media where they quickly lost their independence due to censorship. “People opt for more paying jobs in either PR or the state media, due to the poor welfare of journalists in the private media,” Ntsukunyane said.

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