‘Threats on the me­dia never jus­ti­fied’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

THE safety of jour­nal­ists has come into the spot­light fol­low­ing the shoot­ing of Le­sotho Times and Sun­day Ex­press Ed­i­tor Lloyd Mu­tungamiri. Mr Mu­tungamiri was shot four times and se­ri­ously in­jured in an am­bush at his Thamae home in the wee hours of 10 July 2016.

Shortly af­ter­wards, Le­sotho Times and Sun­day Ex­press re­porter Keiso Mohloboli quit her job and fled the coun­try “to a place of safety” fear­ing for her life.

In this wide rang­ing in­ter­view, Me­dia In­sti­tute of South­ern Africa-le­sotho (MISALe­sotho) Di­rec­tor Tsebo Matšasa speaks with Le­sotho Times ( LT) re­porter, Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane on the state of the me­dia in Le­sotho and re­lated is­sues.

LT: What’s your view on the on­go­ing threats to jour­nal­ists’ safety?

Matšasa: We con­demn any threat to the me­dia, even with­out get­ting into the mer­its of such threats. We con­demn threats be­cause our po­si­tion is if there are com­plaints against the me­dia, there are proper le­gal routes to fol­low; not threats or in­tim­i­da­tion. Be­fore a me­dia house can be dragged to court over any al­leged in­frac­tion, the com­plainant should first seek a re­trac­tion or apol­ogy for what has been wrong­fully pub­lished. The com­plainant should only ap­proach the courts if this process fails. Threats made by words or ac­tions are not al­lowed at all. The me­dia’s role is to be a watch­dog of so­ci­ety, which is very im­por­tant. When mis­takes are made in the ex­e­cu­tion of the role, le­gal routes should be fol­lowed to cor­rect the al­leged mis­take. That’s our stand­point. The me­dia needs to be free, and to be sup­ported in do­ing its work. That is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ev­ery con­sumer of me­dia prod­ucts.

LT: Do you think the in­tim­i­da­tion is a re­sult of the fail­ure by me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers to con­form to jour­nal­is­tic ethics?

Matšasa: Dur­ing the 2016 Misa-le­sotho an­nual gen­eral meet­ing held ear­lier this year, our chair­per­son Mr Malak­eng Hloma said, much as Misa-le­sotho sup­ports the de­vel­op­ment of jour­nal­ism in the coun­try, the con­duct of some me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers left a lot to be de­sired. Some me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers don’t abide by jour­nal­ism ethics and don’t ap­ply them­selves in their work. As a re­sult, some silly mis­takes are made. How­ever, in some cases, the mis­takes are a re­sult of short­ages of staff and lack of re­sources which make it dif­fi­cult for the me­dia to op­er­ate ef­fec­tively.

Me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers need to abide by laid down ethics be­cause the smallest mis­take can cause ir­repara­ble harm. I have al­ways ar­gued it is very easy to tell if a story has been writ­ten in a hur­ried way or with­out due care and ef­fort.

Al­most ev­ery day, we lis­ten to ra­dio pro- grammes that are not bal­anced. For in­stance, lis­ten­ers in some phone-in pro­grammes make un­sub­stan­ti­ated al­le­ga­tions and the pre­sen­ters don’t bother to ver­ify those claims.

Dur­ing an ed­i­tors’ fo­rum or­gan­ised by MISa-le­sotho last De­cem­ber, ed­i­tors from the print and broad­cast me­dia made their pre­sen­ta­tions. One of the ed­i­tors said, he was al­ways sur­prised to see one or two re­porters in the news­room con­tin­u­ally writ­ing in glow­ing terms about a cer­tain political party even though the or­gan­i­sa­tion is not sup­posed to be par­ti­san. The ed­i­tors said, in some cases, they were not aware their re­porters were af­fil­i­ated with cer­tain political par­ties. The ed­i­tors were then ad­vised to al­ways li­aise with their re­porters to avoid sur­prises and en­sure bal­anced re­portage.

It has be­come the norm that cer­tain by­lines are associated with par­tic­u­lar political par­ties. For some ra­dio pro­grammes, the call­ers are al­ways the same peo­ple with the same political in­cli­na­tion. Lis­ten­ers can also be rest as­sured the pro­gramme won’t end with­out cer­tain politi­cians call­ing-in. What we call for is for the me­dia to pro­vide a plat­form for many voices and a wide spec­trum of views.

LT: What is the way for­ward to ad­dress this chal­lenge?

Matšasa: The me­dia in Le­sotho needs sup­port through train­ing and men­tor­ship. When mis­takes are made, the me­dia should not be cru­ci­fied. There shouldn’t be any threats or in­tim­i­da­tion on the me­dia. As I said, there are le­gal pro­ce­dures in deal­ing with the me­dia. Me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers are not crim­i­nals, hence they shouldn’t be treated as such. A jour­nal­ist who has mis­rep­re­sented facts should not be treated like a crim­i­nal who broke into some­body’s house.

LT: The world over, many peo­ple are in­creas­ingly re­ly­ing on so­cial me­dia for in­for­ma­tion. How has so­cial me­dia in­flu­enced the dis­sem­i­na­tion of in­for­ma­tion in Le­sotho?

Matšasa: I find news dis­sem­i­nated through so­cial me­dia de­struc­tive in many ways. Firstly, a num­ber of peo­ple use fake iden­ti­ties on so­cial me­dia. They post gos­sip, lies, vul­gar lan­guage and all sorts of neg­a­tive things which, oth­er­wise, would not be dis­sem­i­nated via con­ven­tional me­dia. In­for­ma­tion em­a­nat­ing from so­cial me­dia net­works is some­what dan­ger­ous be­cause it does not go through proper ed­i­to­rial chan­nels. How­ever, so­cial me­dia also en­ables jour­nal­ists to get tipoffs which they can then ver­ify. From Oc­to­ber last year un­til March this year, I have closely mon- itored ac­tiv­i­ties by Ba­sotho on Face­book. I have since writ­ten an ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled “The role of Face­book in the me­dia pro­fes­sion in Le­sotho”. In the ar­ti­cle, I noted there were var­i­ous ac­tive political groups on Face­book for the Congress peo­ple (sup­port­ing the gov­ern­ment) and the Na­tion­al­ists (op­po­si­tion).

For the me­dia prac­ti­tioner, the chal­lenge is al­ways to strike a bal­ance be­tween tipoffs from these groups and ver­i­fi­ca­tion. As a re­sult, the con­ven­tional me­dia will al­ways be more cred­i­ble than so­cial me­dia. That’s why a lot of peo­ple wait to see so­cial me­dia re­ports be­ing pub­lished in main­stream me­dia to be sure of their au­then­tic­ity. In most cases, the in­for­ma­tion com­ing from so­cial me­dia net­works would be true. How­ever, some facts would be in­ac­cu­rate.

For­tu­nately, many Ba­sotho would rather wait for the “cor­rect” in­for­ma­tion from main­stream me­dia than rely on so­cial me­dia. This is un­like other coun­tries, es­pe­cially in the de­vel­oped world, where peo­ple rely on so­cial me­dia be­cause of its speed.

My ad­vice to peo­ple us­ing so­cial me­dia groups is to use the fo­rums to hold con­struc­tive de­bates us­ing their real iden­ti­ties. In Le­sotho, a lot of peo­ple don’t use their real names be­cause they don’t want to be associated with cer­tain political par­ties. It is high time we start us­ing so­cial me­dia for pro­gres­sive and de­vel­op­men­tal pur­poses. If used well, so­cial me­dia can con­trib­ute to Le­sotho’s eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

LT: Is the me­dia rightly us­ing or abus­ing free­dom of ex­pres­sion?

Matšasa: There is free­dom of speech in Le­sotho. Ba­sotho are free to air their views, and the me­dia has played a very cru­cial role in that re­gard. There are broad­cast pro­grammes and news­pa­per col­umns in which Ba­sotho ex­press their views freely. How­ever, there are chal­lenges that I have al­luded to ear­lier. Peo­ple ex­press them­selves with­out ver­i­fy­ing their claims. As a re­sult, I would say free­dom of speech is be­ing abused in the me­dia to a cer­tain ex­tent. Ba­sotho should not for­get to use their right to free­dom of speech with re­spon­si­bil­ity.

LT: Misa-le­sotho has been crit­i­cised for al­legedly fail­ing to take ac­tion in re­sponse to the in­tim­i­da­tion and pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists. What ex­actly is your role on is­sues like that?

Matšasa: The chal­lenge we have en­coun­tered is many peo­ple don’t quite un­der­stand our role and re­spon­si­bil­ity. Peo­ple al­ways con­fuse Misa-le­sotho with trade unions. We don’t just crit­i­cise peo­ple or the gov­ern­ment with­out fully un­der­stand­ing the gist of the mat­ter. Most of the crit­i­cism we faced was cen­tred on the ques­tion of whether Misa-le­sotho rep­re­sented jour­nal­ists. In ac­tual fact, Misa-le­sotho is a me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion and not a jour­nal­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion. We carry out pol­icy ad­vo­cacy and ca­pac­ity-build­ing pro­grammes in the me­dia. We also speak on be­half of the me­dia where nec­es­sary. Where jour­nal­ists or me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers are ar­rested, ha­rassed and in­tim­i­dated, our role is to is­sue an ac­tion alert to the rest of the world say­ing ‘this is the sit­u­a­tion in Le­sotho’. We then pro­nounce our­selves on the is­sue. How­ever, in con­demn­ing the ar­rest, ha­rass­ment and in­tim­i­da­tion, we won’t nec­es­sar­ily be con­don­ing what the jour­nal­ist would have dis­sem­i­nated.

All we want to see is for the law to take its course in a fair and trans­par­ent man­ner. We don’t want a jour­nal­ist to say ‘I was am­bushed; I was not given a chance for a hear­ing or I didn’t have a lawyer’. We want jour­nal­ists to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their job. Jour­nal­ists should be charged by the courts of law where nec­es­sary. They should be taken through dis­ci­plinary pro­cesses where nec­es­sary. In some in­stances, MISa-le­sotho pro­vides fi­nan­cial sup­port to jour­nal­ists dur­ing their tri­als. Some peo­ple want to com­pare the cur­rent MISA-LE­SOtho with the pre­vi­ous one which took to the streets and at­tacked the au­thor­i­ties. That is not our man­date. Most of the crit­i­cisms are made out of ig­no­rance and des­per­a­tion in the case of some­one who needs us to in­ter­vene on their be­half. If Misa-le­sotho falls into this trap, it will be abused. We will al­ways main­tain diplo­macy and pro­fes­sion­al­ism in ad­dress­ing any is­sues with the gov­ern­ment. We don’t want to give the gov­ern­ment an ex­cuse to be hos­tile and refuse to sit down with us to ad­dress me­dia is­sues to­gether.

“We will al­ways main­tain diplo­macy and pro­fes­sion­al­ism in ad­dress­ing any is­sues with the gov­ern­ment. We don’t want to give the gov­ern­ment an ex­cuse to be hos­tile and refuse to sit down with us to ad­dress me­dia is­sues to­gether.

Misa-le­sotho Di­rec­tor Tsebo Matšasa.

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