‘My peo­ple are de­stroyed for lack of knowl­edge’

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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”.

Ut­loang Ka­jeno

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