…asserts broadcasting code is a product of consultations
MASERU – Government is not willing to budge after promulgating new broadcasting regulations that will be in full force immediately to regulate who can and who cannot practice in the sector. This follows the publication in the Government Gazette of new regulations which stipulate a criterion to be followed for one to be accredited to practice in the broadcast sector, which stakeholders say is unfair and discriminatory.
Minister of Communications, Tšoinyana Sam Rapapa, says he is surprised that broadcasters are not happy with the Broadcasting Code No 38 of 2022, alleging that the code is similar to media code of conduct and media policy which the media industry requested in order to regulate the sector. He said during consultations with the media sector, the Broadcasting Code No 38 of 2022 was drafted and agreed upon by all concerned parties.
Rapapa said what even surprises him more is that the same sector did not stop parliament from passing the broadcasting code when it was discussed in parliament and are only complaining now after its publication. He noted that the broadcasting code means no harm to the industry but seeks to bring order to the sector as per the request by the fraternity.
Rapapa noted that even better, the Lesotho Communications Authority has given broadcasters two years to prepare themselves before the broadcasting code can be implemented. “It is surprising that the same people that requested help to bring order in the media fraternity are the ones that are today complaining about this policy. This broadcasting code is the same thing with the media code of conduct in the media policy. The only difference is that this one specifically applies to broadcasters.
“The code was formulated together with the media sector. It is their code and it is surprising that they are now complaining about it,” Rapapa noted. The Broadcasting Code No 38 of 2022 was published in the Government Gazette on April 4 and became effective on the date of its publication.
Among others, the code stipulates that a broadcaster shall recruit and retain presenters who have certification confirming journalistic training of no less than six months of continuous training from a registered and recognized institution and editorial staff who have certification confirming journalistic training of no less than two years of continuous training from a registered and recognized college or university.
The code further notes that within 24 months of the code coming into effect, all registered and licensed broadcasters shall comply with the regulations. On May 20 the LCA wrote to broadcasters informing them of this code and what is expected of them in terms of practice and recruitment as per the code. The communication between the LCA and broadcasters reads: “Please be informed that the Broadcasting Code No 38 of 2022 was published in the government gazette on April 14 and became effective on the date of publication.
“It is important to note that the Code has, among others, set requirements on the capacity of broadcasters under Regulations 5. Regulation 5 (2) makes it mandatory for all the broadcasters to recruit and retain presenters and editorial staff that have certification confirming journalistic continuous training of no less than six months and two years respectively.
“In terms of Regulation 5 (3) of the code, all the broadcasters are under an obligation to comply with the requirements of the Regulation 5 within 24 months of coming into effect of the code,” reads the communiqué. It further noted that the LCA will closely monitor all broadcasters to ensure compliance of the regulatory requirement. Media Institute of Southern Africa-Lesotho Chapter (MISA-Lesotho) chairperson, and former Media Sector Reforms chairperson, Nkoale Oetsi Tšoana, told Public Eye that MISA-Lesotho has not discussed the Broadcasting Code publication and are yet to issue a stand on the matter.
He, however, noted that MISA was not consulted in the formulation of the code and they only learned about it after it was published. Speaking to this publication as a media representative in the NRA, Tšoana noted that there is nothing wrong with the broadcasting code, articulating that it is actually a copy and paste of the Media Policy and Media Code of Conduct.
He said what is wrong is the approach by minister of communication by not involving concerned stakeholders, saying this has paralyzed the media reforms as articulated in the Omnibus Bill. He said the Omnibus Bill suggests that a Media Ombudsman and Media Council be established to regulate the fraternity instead of the LCA.
He noted that entry requirements stipulated in the broadcasting code differ from those that are suggested in the Omnibus Bill. “There is nothing wrong with the broadcasting code, the problem is the minister’s approach who for the longest time has proved to not like consulting relevant stakeholders before enacting policies. His approach taints good things made with good intentions,” Tšoana said.
He said if only Rapapa had consulted them, he would have been made aware that issues concerning regulating of the media fraternity, including entry requirements, are enclosed in the Omnibus Bill. The station manager at Tšenolo FM, Mshengu Tshabalala, confirmed that they received the letter informing them of the changes to come as per the media code.
He said they have met with other broadcasters requesting a meeting with minister of communication for discussion of the code. Tshabalala said imposing the code on the broadcasters is not fair, not only because private radio stations struggle financially and cannot afford salaries of qualified journalists and presenters but also because there has been no provision put on the table in terms of availing resources to ensure that their staff that already have experience but no qualifications are given the needed training within the stipulated time.
He said some private radio stations do not even get advertisements from the government or any support from the LCA in the form of training to say the least. Tshabalala said the code was done without them being consulted and, as a result, most Christian churches which have priests as presenters are not catered for by the regulation. He further noted that he has no faith in the media institutions in the country as they produce half-baked journalists.
Tshabalala said the letter articulating the above concerns was send to minister Rapapa on Wednesday and is awaiting his response. The media sector was identified as one of the national concerns needing reforms under the national peace building initiative. Key among concerns was the quality of information disseminated and the general code of conduct by practitioners as well as their level of professionalism in handling, especially national issues.