Call for a media policy
. . . as polls observers bemoan polarisation
THE description of Lesotho’s media as “polarised and highly partisan” by most observers of the recently-held National Assembly elections highlights the need for a media policy that fosters professionalism.
This is the observation of the Journalists Union of Lesotho (JUL) in light of criticisms of the media’s conduct by numerous observers of the 3 June 2017 parliamentary elections.
Basotho went to the polls to elect members of the 10th parliament after the collapse of outgoing Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government through a 1 March 2017 no-confidence vote in the National Assembly.
The polls resulted in a hung parliament, with former premier and All Basotho Convention leader Thomas Thabane last Wednesday agreeing to form a coalition government with the Alliance of Democrats, Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho.
The elections were observed by over 50 observers – both local and international.
In their preliminary statements issued after the polls, various observers bemoaned the polarisation of both private and state-controlled media along political lines.
The Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC Countries (ECF-SADC) noted that various stakeholders expressed concern about the polarisation of the media in Lesotho.
“Particular reference was made to the state media which is believed to be highly political and aligned to the incumbent government whilst private media was perceived to be inclined to opposition parties,” the ECF-SADC report stated.
The sentiment was echoed by the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, which noted that the private media was “highly polarised” along party lines, adding that it may compromise citizens’ access to balanced and fair election coverage.
The African Union Election Observation Mission also observed that media houses were polarised and openly partisan in election reporting.
“The mission notes that media reporting on elections in Lesotho generally falls short of the code of conduct for media personnel and media houses during elections prescribed by the Independent Electoral Commission.”
JUL interim chairperson, Nkoale Ntšoana, told the Sunday Express this past week the international observers had “hit the nail on the head”.
“Unfortunately, what they said is the truth that we cannot hide away from,” he said.
“However, it would be wrong for the election observers to paint all media houses with the same brush. The observers should not have labelled every media house based on hearsay and without concrete evidence.”
Asked what JUL was doing to address the concerns raised, Mr Tšoana said they were towards reviving the union.
“We are currently finalising the JUL constitution which among other things seeks to address the concerns raised. It is good that such concerns are being raised at a time we are reviving JUL,” he said.
“It is also our hope that the incoming government will sit down with us and hear us out to ensure we closely work together in enacting laws that will address challenges such as this one.”
Mr Tšoana said the dearth of a media policy partly contributed to the polarisation.
“As of now, there is no instrument legally governing the journalism fraternity and everyone who feels like being a media practitioner can do it,” he said.
“As JUL, we are calling for a media policy with a provision of a media council that would regulate and accredit media practitioners. Other professional fraternities are already doing that, and we can do it within the right legal framework. JUL also wants such a body to be self-regulated.”
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