MASERU – A Bill seeking to introduce reforms to the broadcasting industry was tabled in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
The Communications Bill 2011 was presented before parliament by Communications Minister Mothetjoa Metsing.
According to the Bill’s statement of objects and reasons, the draft law will help enhance the broadcasting sector through the improvement of the transmission of infrastructure to ensure that other areas outside the lowlands “are appropriately served”.
“The current legal framework is outdated and does not provide an enabling legal environment for the introduction of new and affordable communications services in the market,” the statement says.
The statement adds that the Lesotho Telecommunications Authority (Amendment) Act 2001 whose objective was to confer powers on the Lesotho Telecommunications Authority to regulate broadcasting services “was inelegantly drafted”.
“All it did was to extend the definition of a ‘telecommunication service’ to include a broadcasting service without providing parameters under which the authority would operate,” the statement says.
If enacted, the draft law would regulate the granting of licenses by ensuring that qualifying operators give the public access to “a diverse range of broadcasting services”.
A wide spectrum of broadcasters will be considered, from public, private, commercial to community broadcasting services, the draft law says.
“Those shall, in turn, offer a diverse range of broadcast content including news, sports, entertainment, religious, educational and cultural programming,” the Bill says.
Although a diverse range of opinion regarding matters of public interest shall be given a platform, the Bill says, audio, video, or any content distributed through the internet shall not be licensed or regulated as broadcasting.
For the law to be effective and achieve its intended purpose, a broadcasting and disputes resolution panel shall be established. The panel, the Bill says, shall consist of a chairman and four members each of whom “shall serve a three-year term”.
The draft law also specifies that after soliciting nominations and recommendations from the public, the minister shall then appoint well-qualified and independent persons “to serve as members of the panel”.
It adds that he shall not appoint any person who has been adjudged or otherwise declared insolvent and has not been “rehabilitated or discharged”.
“He shall also not assign into the panel any individual who has made an assignment or arrangement with his creditors which has not been rescinded or set aside,” the draft law says.
The law says people who have been convicted of criminal offences, have a direct interest in a license or who are immediate relatives to those who hold a licence, are immediate relatives of the minister or members of the board of the authority and members of parliament “do not qualify to make the panel”.
The minister also has the powers to re-appoint any member of the panel or fill any vacancy in a manner that is consistent with sections of the law, the Bill says.
The duties of the board will include preparing a broadcasting code of conduct, as well as reviewing and seeking to resolve all disputes “regarding broadcast content”.
In the event that there are unresolved disputes, the Bill says, the panel will refer them to the authority with recommendations.
Included in its duties will be drafting a broadcasting code governing content that is obscene, offensive or likely to “incite violence to persons or property”.
“The code shall also govern the protection of privacy, carriage of political advertising and advertising and sponsorships,” the Bill says.
If the code imposes any restrictions on the freedom of expression, the draft law says, the restrictions shall not be broader than necessary “to achieve a compelling public interest”.
“A restriction shall be imposed pursuant to transparent procedures and in a non-discriminatory manner,” the new law proposes.