The Media Institute of Southern Africa is campaigning to turn
state-controlled Radio Lesotho and Lesotho television into public
broadcaster, but the Maseru government sees this as a long-term
prospect, writes Mzimkhulu Sithetho.

The ministry of communication stayed away from a stakeholder meeting arranged by Misa’s Lesotho chapter to discuss a way forward in effecting the change.

But Communications Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing has said elsewhere that the government was committed to achieving this goal. It would take time, though, because the government needed to make sure that there were enough staff and resources for the broadcaster to meet a public mandate.

He however said that turning the state broadcaster into a public one did not mean that it was a free for all entity as that would lead to anarchy.

“We cannot allow a situation where people take the concept of freedom of speech too far by being disrespectful to their leaders like we have witnessed with some radio stations in recent months.

“This can lead to anarchy,” said the minister, cautioning against a fully-fledged public broadcaster in the manner understood by Misa and the country’s media fraternity as a whole.

The Lesotho Broadcasting Authority Bill, passed in 2004, has been controversial since some in the media fraternity feel it gives the communications ministry too much authority on broadcasting.

Metsing said that the government has formed a local team of experts which is working with the World Bank to draft a policy framework for telecommunications and the media in general.

“This mission should be completed by December this year and government will then take over and explore ways of going forward,” said the minister.

He expressed dissatisfaction with the way the private media has been operating after the February 2007 elections, saying they fail to be objective.

“Some media houses have made it their mandate to criticize government and support the opposition, it’s not about professional principles of the profession at all,” the minister said.

Misa’s Lesotho chapter has been campaigning for a change. A 2005 position paper proposed that there should be an independent board to oversee the public broadcaster. It also suggested an independent editorial policy of the broadcasters to cover other shades of society besides government policy.