The Lesotho cabinet has endorsed a new communications policy that proposes wide-ranging improvements to the broadcasting sector, writes Mzimkhulu Sithetho.
The policy proposes the transformation of the state broadcaster into a public service broadcaster, and the formation of a self-regulatory body that will adjudicate on complaints brought against radio and television stations.
The policy envisages corporatising the state broadcaster and making it accountable to an independent board with a goal of serving the public interest.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â It will have editorial independence and any content restrictions or requirements will be contained in a charter to be developed along with a clear source of funding for operations and expansion.
The new policy also envisages universal access to content by the population of the Mountain Kingdom. There are currently ten radio stations, whoseÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â coverage is limited to the area around the capital, Maseru. Only Radio Lesotho covers the whole country and beyond.
The policy also says the independence of the regulator, the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), should be guaranteed: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIn making its decisions, LCA will act in a manner free from political interference, influence, or considerations. Such regulatory independence is mandated by Lesotho international obligations and is consistent within international best practices.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
It states that maintaining regulatory independence is essential to ensure the confidence of both foreign donors and private sector investors, who must play a critical role in the development of Lesotho communications sector.
But for the policy still gives the power to appoint the board to the communications minister.
Many aspects of the new policy are drawn from policy positions developed by the Media Institute of Southern Africa, but Misa had called for board appointments to be as transparent and non-partisan as possible.
The policy maintains that the minister will nominate six members to serve on the board including the chairperson, although subject to approval in the National Assembly.
MISA had hammered out a position paper that spelled out its demands for a public broadcaster, moving away from the ruling party mouth-piece role of radio Lesotho and Lesotho Television.
The two state-run broadcasting stations have been criticized for feeding the nation with Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) propaganda, while ignoring critical issues that warrant reportage.
The policy calls for the formation of a Broadcast Dispute Resolutions Panel (BDRP) that will adjudicate over complaints lover content on radio and TV stations. The new body will operate in the format that is applied by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA), says the LCA Chief Executive Officer, Monehela Posholi.
It will consist of representatives from the broadcasting industry and will be empowered by the LCA to resolve content disputes.
After hearing the disputes, representatives of the body will make recommendations to the LCA for enforcement of the Communications Act and all relevant license conditions.
This move is seen as a relief to the overburdened LCA whose regulatory role has been mired in partisan politics.