don’t shoot the mes­sen­ger

Lesotho Times - - Leader -

ON Sun­day, we woke up to the shock­ing news that Le­sotho Times and Sun­day Ex­press Edi­tor Lloyd Mu­tungamiri was gunned down by un­known as­sailants after re­turn­ing home from work at mid­night.

The cold-blooded as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt has left Le­sotho and the rest of the world shell-shocked es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the as­sailants’ de­ter­mi­na­tion to take Mr Mu­tungamiri out at all costs. Thank­fully, their plan did not suc­ceed since he was saved by his car’s bul­let-proof wind­screen. How­ever, he still sus­tained very se­ri­ous in­juries which will leave a per­ma­nent im­print on his body.

This tragic in­ci­dent brings to the fore the un­sung role jour­nal­ists play in dis­charg­ing their du­ties and the dan­gers that lie be­fore them. The world over, jour­nal­ists are un­der threat from state and non­state ac­tors with some los­ing their lives on a daily ba­sis. Sadly, the killers of jour­nal­ists are al­most never brought to jus­tice.

This has cre­ated a cli­mate of im­punity in which — from the per­spec­tive of the killers — the mur­der of jour­nal­ists is triv­ial, an act that can be re­peated again and again with no fear of ar­rest or con­vic­tion.

Those who shoot and or ha­rass jour­nal­ists have one goal: to si­lence the mes­sen­ger and in­tim­i­date other jour­nal­ists.

The safety of jour­nal­ists is a fun­da­men­tal pil­lar of the uni­ver­sal, in­alien­able right to press free­dom, en­shrined in the uni­ver­sal dec­la­ra­tion of hu­man rights, which stip­u­lates the right of peo­ple ev­ery­where to re­ceive and trans­mit in­for­ma­tion.

When fear prompts jour­nal­ists to self-cen­sor, the free flow of in­for­ma­tion is im­paired. Cit­i­zens are de­prived of in­for­ma­tion. Ac­count­abil­ity — in both the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors — is un­der­mined. And democ­racy is threat­ened.

Evil­do­ers should be ex­posed for what they are, and that is the role of the press, both pri­vate and pub­lic. As John Keane puts it in his es­say Democ­racy and Me­dia: With­out Foun­da­tions (1995), “the re­def­i­ni­tion of the pub­lic ser­vice model (of the press) re­quires the de­vel­op­ment of a plu­ral­ity of non-state me­dia of com­mu­ni­ca­tion which both func­tion as per­ma­nent thorns in the side of po­lit­i­cal power — help­ing to min­imise po­lit­i­cal cen­sor­ship — and serve as the pri­mary means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion for cit­i­zens sit­u­ated within a plu­ral­is­tic so­ci­ety”.

As trite as this creed may sound, it is the duty of the press to comfort the af­flicted and af­flict the com­fort­able. This is the lofty ideal that many, non­cor­rupt, mem­bers of the me­dia still aspire to.

In the ab­sence of crit­i­cal, in­de­pen­dent in­for­ma­tion, it is dis­in­for­ma­tion, pro­pa­ganda and in­cite­ment which pre­vail. It is there­fore the duty of ev­ery­one – not just jour­nal­ists and civil so­ci­ety ac­tors, but es­pe­cially gov­ern­ments — to abide by in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments, to re­spect the fun­da­men­tal right to press free­dom in ac­tion and not just in words, and to par­tic­i­pate in ef­forts to pro­mote and en­sure the safety of jour­nal­ists.

A free press is also an agent of so­cial change and de­vel­op­ment, and the me­dia are an im­por­tant in­dus­try that en­hances eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

Of course, as jour­nal­ists we must crit­i­cally look at our­selves in the mir­ror and be hon­est as to whether we are ad­her­ing to ethics and up­hold­ing the pub­lic in­ter­est and not air­brush­ing our own short­com­ings.

We don’t need politi­cians or any­one for that mat­ter to tell us this, be­cause we have to do it as part of our pro­fes­sional re­spon­si­bil­ity. If me­dia are to flour­ish in Le­sotho, a new think­ing that de­fines the role of the press in a democ­racy should be de­manded.

In a coun­try that still con­sid­ers it­self a democ­racy, where the rule of law is ex­pected to re­main para­mount, at­tacks — whether of jour­nal­ists or any­one for that mat­ter — must not be con­doned un­der any cir­cum­stances.

Un­til then the cloud of im­punity in the sense­less shoot­ing of Mr Mu­tungamiri will con­tinue to hover over this coun­try.

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