‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’
THESE seminal words appear in the Book of Hosea 4:6. I deliberately quoted these words from the impeccable source in the fervent hope they would earnestly appeal to the conscience of our leaders. In the past few weeks we learned of the resumption of subtle attacks and violation of fundamental freedom of expression and thought, which is subsumed under expression. Lest I be misinterpreted by cynics, who are in the habit of ascribing insinuations that I never intended, but I am making reference to three incidents to substantiate my argument.
First, a couple of weeks ago, the Lesotho Times carried a story from an unidentified source claiming that government was in negotiations with the Army Commander for a huge golden handshake as part of an exit package in part-fulfilment of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) decisions that government of Lesotho is expected to implement.
Government, as it is its duty under the circumstances, vehemently denied this story. In the circumstances, government went overboard by enquiring of the reporter to reveal her sources. That this is unacceptable is an understatement. It is a blatant violation of journalistic ethics. It is tantamount to ordering a medical doctor to break the so-called Hippocratic Oath by publicly disclosing the ailment of his patient.
Second, the Lesotho Times again carried a column that had the central theme of depicting the huge influence of the Army Commander in the affairs of state. In short, this is called satire in journalistic parlance.
The purpose of satire is purely to, either in cartoons, in writing or verbally, use humour, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose and portray conduct of public figures in a lighthearted manner.
Satire is a well-known acceptable form of conveying messages in the media throughout the world. A few instances can be made of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, depicting the prophet Muhammed (no offence intended for Muslims) in a satirical manner, the Johannesburg Star Newspaper depicting South African’s President raping the blind-folded lady of justice aided by his close confidantes and satire appears daily in renowned publications throughout the world such as Washington Post, New York Times and International Herald Tribune.
In the Star’s case the ruling African National Congress, took the writer to court complaining about the picture but were defeated. By contrast, in Lesotho Scrutator or specifically the publisher and the editor were taken to court to face charges of defamation and crimen injuria.
Third, in an unexpected turn of events, the female journalist who broke the story fled in fear of her life. Incidentally, the editor of the same newspaper was attacked by unknown gunmen. The lady journo therefore felt under the circumstances, that she was the next in line as well, given the narrow escape and the vicious callous attack on her editor.
It is not for nothing that the media is often categorized as the fourth estate, the arm of government, in addition to, in no particular order, the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. As earlier stated, freedom of expression and by extension, of thought, is a fundamental freedom enshrined in the Constitution of Lesotho, the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and People’s Rights, to which Lesotho is a signatory. A free robust medic is the ful- crum around which all agenda of all nations and institutions, revolve, be it educational, informative, developmental, spiritual and otherwise. Any institution that muzzles the voice of the free media does it at its own peril.
Paradoxically, the very same institutions that are in arms against investigative robust media will at some stage in their evolutions seek the assistance of the media to put across their views to the world and the general public. The media is by its nature an indispensable vehicle that sometimes steps on other people’s toes. That is the inescapable truism about the media, the world over.
For the life of me and I believe everybody else who likes being associated with democratic values, vision, principles and aspirations, I cannot challenge the constitutional prerogative and the institutional privilege of both the prosecuting authority and the police to investigate and prosecute situations where criminal conduct is suspected. However, what I cannot countenance is an absurd situation where some media, most notably, some radio stations, are giving platforms to people who incite violence and criminal conduct and these platforms and people are let to do these despicable acts and utterances with absolute impunity. Selective investigation and prosecution is the root cause of discontent, hostility towards democratic principles and are the basis for instability.
In as far journalists are concerned, it is because of their pivotal role that there are other institutional and legislative interventions that are in place to rein them in if they are perceived to have gone overboard.
States cannot use defamation laws to stiffle dissent and intimidate jour- nalists. In the words of the Civil Society Joint Statement (Sunday Express, 17-23, July, 2016) “The African Commission and the Human Rights Committee have recognized the disproportionate effect the offence of criminal defamation has on the practice of journalist and have called on states to decriminalize defamation”.
I urge the state to drop these charges against the two journalists since they might be perceived as an effort to muzzle freedom of information, expression and thought. Further, by investigating, prosecuting and verbally and publicly attacking the media, in particular these journalists, the state has unwittingly played into the hands of enemies of democracy and free speech.
They have jumped on the bandwagon of the state’s displeasure at these journos to sow mayhem and wanton killing on defenceless media practitioners who are merely doing their bid to inform this nation. Unfortunately, the state has unwittingly and indirectly unleashed a reign of terror on unsuspecting journos.
The forces of evil have snatched the initiative from the state to make the state’s intentions their own with disastrous consequences. The sooner these blood-thirsty maniacs are brought before the courts the better such that they receive the stiffest punishment. The message should be simple: attacks on journalists are depraved.
It is high time that these faceless killers become aware of the pivotal role that the media plays in the development agenda of our country and the informative role it plays in the public domain. It is only through robust and investigative journalism that topical issues affecting our na- tion and well-being are brought to the public domain through constructive and insightful discourse so that informed opinions and decisions can be made.
Since time immemorial kill present, the media has played a crucial role on national issues. We cannot just wish away and stifle the medial merely because we feel uncomfortable with the way it disseminates information or the type of information it disseminates.
While it is granted that physical risks including death, at times, comes with the territory of news gathering and dissemination, government and its security agencies must demonstrate tangible efforts to promote, protect and uphold media freedom and active protection of its practitioners.
To pretend that there is no threat to this profession is being disingenuous, likely to lead to unfortunate perceptions of complicity and plays into the hands of unscrupulous, nefarious and faceless thugs that take advantage of the inaction or negative utterances against media practitioners.
The other side of the coin to the media industry is that it gives employment opportunities to hundreds of Basotho who are sole breadwinners to thousands of dependents in our fragile economy. The media industry therefore sustains many livelihoods.
In conclusion, these faceless and heartless murderers should note that in Isaiah 62:6-7 it is said: “I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth”.