don’t shoot the messenger
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.