Lesotho’s ‘brown envelope’ journos lashed

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – A medley of unsavoury relationship between politicians and journalists, prejudiced political reporting, negative public comments and spats between journalists themselves have earned the local media abjuration from several sectors of society.

The public, academia, media practitioners and unions as well as political commentators are worried about visible polarization of the industry in the country, and some say the polarity that seems meant to divide and promote hate does not only compromise journalists’ credibility but also the profession as a whole.

Journalist and political scientist, Nthakeng Pheello Selinyane speaking to this reporter said that polarization is, however, not necessarily a bad thing in human relations and is universal in the media industry and not unique to Lesotho. Selinyane argues that what is wrong is if the divergence is done for immoral, unethical and evil pursuits.

“It is not bad for anybody to be polarized around causes or pursuits which are legally allowed, ethical within the boundaries of their profession and are morally acceptable to the nation.

Once again, there is nothing wrong with sponsoring a political party, what is wrong is to promote falsehoods in support of a certain party, to hide its weaknesses and even its evils and to assign and publish false information about its rivals,” Selinyane noted. He said media polarization becomes wrong when it is used to divide and promote hate, confirming that this exists in the country.

He continued that once journalists allow themselves to be polarized to promote division and hate, they defeat the ethics of media “and for those purposes they are no longer considered as media personnel because to be a part of the media personnel, one has to abide by media ethics.”

The former government spokesperson observed that unfortunately, certain journalists have become surrogates of politicians that are implanted or deployed in the media industry.

“There is a huge difference between being a surrogate of politicians in the journalism profession and being a journalist who has a particular unhidden bias…which is pursued while upholding moral standards and ethical values of the profession,” he said.

Selinyane indicated that supporting politics within the bounds of ethics should not be seen as any worse than being a supporter of a particular religious denomination or football team.

He said problems arise when a journalist starts using affections for the things they support, and worship them instead of worshiping the profession to which they belong – and not let affections own them.

“Once affections own a person, they will start worshiping the affections at the expense of the profession and using the profession to serve the affections instead of upholding the profession while others go about their different affections,” he said.

This week, the Media Institute of Southern Africa – Lesotho chapter (MISA-Lesotho) voiced great concern on the subject of journalists meddling in party politics, releasing a statement of concern over practitioners who actively advance party political agendas.

In the statement, MISA-Lesotho expressed concern over the growing rate of conduct by some ‘journalists’ who actively meddle in the affairs of political parties under the guise that  they are doing their job as media practitioners, yet theirs is clearly to campaign for and against certain political parties openly on social media platforms hoping for their own 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.

MISA-Lesotho notes with disappointment that this malpractice seems to be growing at a worrying rate specifically with pseudo-journalists at some private radio stations,” reads MISA’s statement.

It further noted that what is most saddening about the said journalists is that they tend to seek refuge at MISA-Lesotho when they lose their personal political fights.

MISA-Lesotho are not, the statement adds, and cannot be used as a scapegoat by politicians impersonating journalists, therefore, distances itself from media practitioners who are unsure whether they are ‘journalists’ or active politicians.

In an interview Editors Forum of Lesotho (EFL) interim chairman, Teboho Khatebe Molefi, concurred that meddling and political bias were central to the concerns the public harbours about news media – and that these were widespread

He said media political bias is prevalent and pernicious, and that consternation over this political bias in the mainstream media runs rampant, making 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 organization or reporter to favour one political party over another when reporting news,” he continued.

Molefi added that journalists should hold 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 adhere to 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 in the news influence what is on the political agenda and how people evaluate political information; after all, news media are integral to informing marginalized segments of the public about politics.”

“Serious gatekeeping will also gag these politicians masquerading as journalists in our profession,” he said.

Poloko Mokhele, scribe and a journalism student, views polarization of the media as a problem that compromises the profession, he, however, notes that the blame does not rest entirely only on journalists that meddle in political affairs only but also publishers and media house owners who got into the industry for financial gain and not passion.

He said most of the times, journalists find themselves in situations where they are dissuaded from the ethical execution of their mandate, which is servicing societies with truthfully and unbiased information. He said journalists are forced to sometimes take sides or produce biased stories in cases where particular media houses stand to gain.

“To a lot of media houses, it is just business and not passion for journalism. Some media houses do not really care or have passion for journalism, therefore, they align themselves with political parties that will bring them business…even if it means only singing their praises or abstaining from publishing anything that could tint their image,” he said.

He pointed out that private sector advertising for the media is very minimal in the country, leaving government the main advertiser. This, he continued, forces some media outlets to be cautious when reporting on the government in fear of being accused of being against the government as that could risk losing advertisements.

Mokhele noted that the other challenge is the absence of a media policy in the country. “The other challenge is the absence of media policy. Our hope is in media reforms but they too have been dragging for years. “Lesotho needs media policy to stop media polarization.

With a media policy there won’t be people that comes into the profession pretending to be journalists while in fact they are politicians. This will enable members of society to report media outlets that derail from responsible reporting, and contravene the policy,” Mokhele said.

‘Mampoetsi Sekete, a resident of Ha Abia, also showed concern regarding journalists that do not abide by journalistic ethics, but align themselves to politicians and parties for their own gain.

She said this has seen her losing hope in journalists and their work. Sekete said most of the time when she reads certain stories that are mostly unbalanced, and always questions the motive of the reporters who wrote the stories.

A media advocacy and lobby body that promotes media freedom, pluralism and diversity, among others, MISA-Lesotho has assured the public that they will not turn a blind eye where ethics are infringed, even outside membership of the organization.

They have further cautioned their members against unprofessional reporting and conduct, including active participation in political parties’ affairs.

 

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