- Media organisations in Lesotho are considering acting against the Maseru government after a price hike in licence fees that threatens to push several publications out of the market. The head of Lesotho's pressure group for free media, Thabang Matjama, warned afrol News about "serious" threats to local media.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa, Lesotho chapter (MISA Lesotho) is contemplating to petition the government of Lesotho, following the recent seven-fold licence fee hike that invoked scathing criticism by the media and other critics from the public, the acting Director of MISA Lesotho Thabang Matjama today hinted in an interview with afrol News. Mr Matjama revealed that the National Governing Council (NGC) of the organisation would seriously look into the issue when they meet on Sunday 18 May.
"This is a serious travesty to media freedom. The move further sacrifices pluralism of the media. Most of them are already struggling even to pay their employees. During Sunday's meeting the NGC will discuss comprehensively the possibility of petitioning the government about this issue," Mr Matjama asserted. The MISA leader is also the default secretary of the council by virtue of him being the head of secretariat.
The Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) recently slapped broadcasters with a seven-fold license fee hike. The LCA sent invoices to radio stations with a shocking US$ 3000 annual fee, up from US$ 400. The move has angered the broadcasters, especially private media outlets, which have since 2005 suffered from economic difficulties owing to moves by the government to withdraw advertising.
MISA Lesotho has also expressed shock at the change of events in recent times, when the regulatory wrote to 'Harvest FM', a popular private radio station that broadcasts from Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, to ask the station to show course within sixty days why the station could not be closed.
The government of Lesotho is also about to make an amendment in parliament of the LTA Act that vests all the licence issuing and revoking powers in the minister, a move widely seen as a steady plot to close down private radio stations that are critical of the government.
Commenting further on these issues, MISA Lesotho told afrol News that the government actions are not those of a democratic state expected to observe international instruments, including the African Charter on the Broadcasting.
In an interview with the local newspaper 'Lesotho Times', the Minister of Communication, Science and Technology Mothejoa Metsing defended the Bill saying the government is only acting on the public interests. "I have asked my colleagues in the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee as to what we would do given a situation whereby a radio station has started inciting violence," the Minister told the paper on Wednesday, at the same time reiterating "this is where we believe the minister should have the right to close it down."
One part of the Bill reads "The Minister shall have power, in substantial, exceptional and compelling circumstances, to revoke a license and close or cause to be closed the communications services authorities under the license without prior hearing."
MISA was formed in 1992 and is the Southern Africa regional coordinating body formed to harness, uphold and advocate for freedom of speech and the media together with human rights respectively. MISA has about eleven member countries better known as chapters.
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