Press freedom paramount
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.
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