- A media law reform is causing controversy in Lesotho as the government has sent its bill to parliament without considering the viewpoints of the media. Media organisations wanted to achieve a transformation of pro-government state media into independent public-service broadcasters, but were denied the possibility of advocating these changes.
Two important bills, the Lesotho Broadcasting Corporation Bill 2004 and the Public Service Bill 2004 were presented in the Maseru parliament in September 2004, according to a statement issued by the national assembly. The bills are currently at the hands of Basotho MPs, who were urged to "study their general merits and principles before engaging in debates."
The main object of the Lesotho Broadcasting Corporation Bill 2004, according to the parliament's statement, "is to make provision for the restructuring of the Department of Broadcasting in a direction geared towards full liberalisation of the Department. This will be achieved by the establishment of an autonomous public Broadcasting corporation that shall be governed by a broad representative Board."
Currently the government of Lesotho wholly owns the Department of Broadcasting and it is envisaged that the government would initially finance the corporation and withdraw such funding gradually, leading to the financial autonomy of the corporation.
The Lesotho chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Lesotho) however had foreseen other changes as the country's media law now is to be reformed. The regional press freedom watchdog was advocating the "need to transform Radio Lesotho into a public-service broadcaster (PSB)," meaning that the broadcaster should not be privatised but still liberated from government control.
Since 6 October, MISA's Lesotho chapter had been "denied access to state-owned radio and television" to comment on the media law reform, the group said in a statement today. MISA-Lesotho had requested a slot on 'Seboping', state-owned Radio Lesotho's current affairs phone-in programme, "to sensitise the public" about the advantages of public-service broadcasters.
On 6 October, Lesotho Television (LTV) had interviewed MISA-Lesotho's national director, Malefetsane Nkhahle, about the PSB campaign and asked the organisation to comment on the broadcasting bill. The group criticised the bill for not conforming to the ideals of a true PSB.
The interview preceded a meeting, organised by MISA-Lesotho, to form an NGO and civil society coalition to pressure the government to withdraw the bill and involve civil society stakeholders in consultations to improve the legislation. LTV was invited to the meeting, but did not attend, according to MISA.
- MISA-Lesotho learned that that the LTV crew was refused permission to cover the meeting by officials in the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology, according to the group. "Furthermore, following the ministry's instructions, the Nkhahle interview was not televised." MISA-Lesotho had also been scheduled to appear on the LTV programme 'Seotlong' on 13 October. However, its participation had since been cancelled.
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