THE Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) has given popular radio station, Harvest FM, until 21 January 2016 to “show cause” why it should not be charged for allegedly contravening broadcasting rules.
The ultimatum comes after Harvest FM aired a programme on Tuesday which raised the government’s ire, prompting Prime Minister’s Political Advisor, Dr Fako Likoti, to ask the LCA to intervene and take “stern” measures against station.
The programme in question was an interview the radio station held with Lehloenya Mahao who is the brother of slain former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao as well as the family spokesperson.
Mr Mahao appeared on Harvest FM’s morning programme, Rise and Shine, hosted by Puseletso Mphana to refute claims by Popular Front for Democracy that it had helped fund his slain brother’s funeral.
However, the government claims that during the programme, Mr Mahao also falsely alleged that Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s coalition had provided M100 000 to fund a court case by Lieutenant-Colonel Hashatsi in which the LDF Special Forces commander is seeking to nullify a Southern Africa Development Community inquiry into, among other things, Lt-Gen Mahao’s killing.
After the programme, Harvest FM owner ‘Malichaba Lekhoaba said she received a letter signed by Dr Likoti in which he asked the LCA to take “stern action” against the radio station, a development that could see the station’s operational licence being withdrawn or suspended.
Dr Likoti’s letter, dated 5 January 2016, was addressed to the LCA’s Chief Executive Officer, Tšeliso ‘Mokela, and also copied to Communications Minister Khotso Letsatsi as well as Harvest FM management.
The letter, headlined “Harvest FM’s non consultation with government on pertinent issues” partly read: “Today, 5 January 2016, the above radio station hosted one Mr Lehloenya Mahao on its morning programme.
“Mr Mahao made a claim that (the) Lesotho government paid M100 000 towards Mr Hashatsi’s case. The programme convener even urged Mr Mahao to repeat on air this serious allegation without getting government’s side.
“This fallacious statement was rubbed on listeners without the programme convener even establishing the truth about this.
“This malicious allegation was therefore entertained by Ms Mphana without even trying to establish the truth.
“It has become a common cause that Harvest FM has become one of the radio stations that has embarked on a campaign to demonise and cast negative aspersions against the government of Lesotho.
“It is on this basis that we ask your good office to take stern measures against the radio station.”
Mr Letsatsi echoed Dr Likoti’s sentiments in an interview with the Sunday Express’s sister paper, Lesotho Times last week.
The Communications minister said the Harvest FM broadcast was aimed at “spreading hatred and sowing divisions within the society”.
He said it was reprehensible for the media to provide a platform for Mr Mahao to claim that the government was funding Lt-Col Hashatsi, without providing the government with an opportunity to respond. He said radio broadcasts must be well researched and balanced for the benefit of listeners. Mr Letsatsi said, as the minister responsible for the media, he would also consider lodging a complaint against Harvest FM to the LCA.
However, Ms Lekhoaba also told the Lesotho Times on Wednesday that her station had done nothing wrong.
“The issue of M100 000 doesn’t appear anywhere in the programme. In any event, if Dr Likoti felt that he wanted to respond to whatever claims made by the Mahaos, he could have demanded the same platform to respond to the matter,” she said.
“I am wondering why Dr Likoti opted to issue out such a letter without first demanding his right of reply.”
She added that she was “not surprised” by the development.
“I am not surprised. This used to happen a lot during the previous regime of the current Prime Minister (Dr Mosisisli) before the 2012 general elections. Government officials would lodge so many complaints against Harvest FM programmes resulting in several suspensions of our station,” Ms Lekhoaba said.
“Now that they are back in power, they have resumed their onslaught.”
However, the LCA, which is responsible for licencing all radio stations, on Thursday issued Harvest FM with a “show cause” notice headlined “Enforcement Proceedings”.
Part of the notice, which was signed by Mr ‘Mokela, reads: “The Authority hereby issues a notice in terms of Section 46 of the Communications Act, 2012 (the Act) as follows: Facts – 1. On Tuesday the 5th January 2016, during the Rise and Shine programme, the guests on air alleged that the Lesotho government paid M100 000 towards Mr Hashatsi’s legal costs.
“2. It has since emerged that the Lesotho government was not alerted to such nor invited to provide its side of the story. This has emerged in a letter from Dr Likoti dated the 5th January 2016 and copied to Harvest FM.
“Regulatory Provisions – 3. The Lesotho Telecommunications Authority (Broadcasting) Rules 2004 (Broadcasting Rules), rule 8(1) thereof, enjoins Harvest FM to “report news and information accurately, fairly and impartially”. A broadcast that ignores to solicit the views from other parties who are implicated in such broadcast is not accurate, fair or impartial.
“4. Rule 9(1) of the same Rules states that: A licensee shall ensure that, in reporting on controversial issues of political, industrial, or public importance, an appropriate range of views are reported either within a single programme or in a series of programmes which are as adjacent as reasonably possible.”
“Appropriate range of views should, first and foremost, be those of the affected parties, thus Mr Hashatsi and the Lesotho government in this case.
“5. The Authority calls upon Harvest to show cause why the above stated facts shall not be deemed to constitute contravention of the Broadcasting Rules and attract penalties as provided for under section 47(1) of the Act.
“Timeframe – 6. Harvest FM is requested to respond to all issues raised herein and its representations should be submitted by 1200Hrs on the 21st January, 2016.”
Ms Lekhoaba confirmed receiving the notice on Friday, but however expressed surprise that the LCA issued the notice “before listening to the recording of the programme”.
“I am surprised that Mr Mokela wrote an ultimatum to Harvest FM even before he could listen to the recording of the programme in question,” she said.
“I stand by my assertion that during the programme in question, there was no issue raised of government paying M100 000 towards Mr Hashatsi’s court case.”
“The recording is available and was rebroadcast during Rise and Shine this morning. The M100 000 issue is definitely not there.”
LCA spokesperson Tšiu Tšiu was not reachable at the time of going to print as his phone rang unanswered.