Press free­dom para­mount

Lesotho Times - - Leader -

AS Le­sotho cel­e­brated World Press Free­dom Day on 3 May 2016, we have to take into con­sid­er­a­tion how far we have come in re­spect­ing, pro­mot­ing and up­hold­ing the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion as en­shrined un­der Ar­ti­cle 19 of the 1948 Univer­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights.

The United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly de­clared this day World Press Free­dom (WPF) Day or just World Press Day (WPD) to raise aware­ness of the im­por­tance of free­dom of the press and re­mind gov­ern­ments of their duty to re­spect and up­hold the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

The United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNESCO) marks each year be­gin­ning 1997 WPF Day by award­ing the Unesco/guillermo Cano World Press Free­dom Prize to a de­serv­ing in­di­vid­ual, or­ga­ni­za­tion or in­sti­tu­tion that has made an out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the de­fence and/ or pro­mo­tion of press free­dom any­where in the world, es­pe­cially when this has been in the face of dan­ger.

The prize is named in hon­our of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colom­bian jour­nal­ist who was as­sas­si­nated in front of the of­fices of his news­pa­per, El Espec­ta­dor, in Bo­gota, on 17 De­cem­ber, 1986, seem­ingly for hav­ing pro­voked the ire of Colom­bia’s pow­er­ful drug barons.

This year’s theme is “Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion and Fun­da­men­tal Free­doms”. In mark­ing the WPF Day, UNESCO brings to­gether me­dia pro­fes­sion­als, press free­dom or­gan­i­sa­tions and UN agen­cies to as­sess the state of press free­dom world­wide and dis­cuss so­lu­tions for ad­dress­ing chal­lenges.

Le­sotho, like the rest of the civ­i­lized demo­cratic world, has a very pro­gres­sive ex­pres­sion. Sec­tion 14(1) of the Con­sti­tu­tion in this re­gard, pro­vides: “Every per­son shall be en­ti­tled to, and (ex­cept with his con­sent) shall not be hin­dered in his en­joy­ment of, free­dom to hold opin­ions without in­ter­fer­ence, free­dom to re­ceive ideas and “In­for­ma­tion without in­ter­fer­ence, free­dom to com­mu­ni­cate ideas and in­for­ma­tion without in­ter­fer­ence (whether the com­mu­ni­ca­tion be to the pub­lic gen­er­ally or to any per­son or class of per­sons) and free­dom from in­ter­fer­ence with his cor­re­spon­dence.”

The pur­pose of this col­umn is to take stock

It has to be noted that like the UN and its agency, UNESCO, I am us­ing the word “press” in its lib­eral and broad sense to in­clude news­pa­pers and broad­cast me­dia, and jour­nal­ists viewed col­lec­tively.

To its credit, Le­sotho, as a nascent democ­racy, has up­held and re­spected free­dom of the press.

Granted, jour­nal­ists are be­rated on all fronts es­pe­cially across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum for be­ing bi­ased, un­pro­fes­sional and in­com­pe­tent and in­deed, at times be­ing out­right mis­lead­ing.

How­ever, the last time a jour­nal­ist was killed in Le­sotho, was in 1977, when a jour­nal­ist of a lo­cal news­pa­per that is church-owned, was bru­tally mur­dered for what the au­thor­i­ties then per­ceived to be anti-govern­ment news cov­er­age.

Re­cently, we have heard of in­ci­dents when jour­nal­ists were sum­moned be­fore the po­lice for ques­tion­ing but these have been very iso­lated in­ci­dents.

How­ever, this does not de­tract from the salu­tary ob­ser­va­tion that one journo in­tim­i­dated, maimed or killed is one too many and this coun­try can­not af­ford it.

At the be­gin­ning of 2016, how­ever, two in­de­pen­dent ra­dio jour­nal­ists who were be­ing per­ceived to be against the new seven-party coali­tion govern­ment fled the coun­try af­ter al­legedly be­ing tipped­off that their lives were in dan­ger.

This is af­ter they were al­legedly threat­ened. How­ever, they have since af­ter months un­der a self-im­posed ex­iled, re­turned to the coun­try.

Re­cently, when in­ter­na­tional diplo­matic pres­sure was cranked-up on the govern­ment to im­ple­ment the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) com­mis­sion of in­quiry rec­om­men­da­tions, some top of­fi­cials wrote strongly-worded let­ters and ver­bal warn­ings to lo­cal news­pa­pers and in­de­pen­dent ra­dio sta­tions warn­ing them of clo­sure if they re­ported what they per­ceived to be un­truths about govern­ment’s stand point in re­gard to the rec­om­men­da­tions and re­sponse. They were warned in no uncertain terms to toe the line or else face the con­se­quences.

Since the trans­for­ma­tion and openingup of the air­waves more than 10 lo­cal and na­tional pri­vate ra­dio sta­tions have been op­er­at­ing for more than a decade. This, they do, with very lit­tle hin­drance from the govern­ment-con­trolled broad­cast­ing reg­u­lat­ing author­ity.

They op­er­ate na­tion­ally and re­gion­ally and in ac­cor­dance with the rel­e­vant statu­tory pro­vi­sions de­pend­ing on their re­spec­tive li­cences.

The pur­pose of this col­umn is to take stock of what strides Le­sotho has made in press free­dom, trans­for­ma­tion, re­spect­ing and up­hold­ing the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

Con­tin­ues on Page 14 . . .

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