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People have the right to know

TOMORROW we mark — not celebrate — World Press Freedom Day under the theme “freedom of information: the right to know”.

Indeed there is nothing to celebrate when 2009 has been recorded as the bloodiest year for media professionals.

At least 68 were killed worldwide in the line of duty.

Sub-Saharan Africa has also seen the highest death toll for journalists this decade with 12 of them being murdered while performing their work in 2009.

God knows what 2010 holds for the profession with a couple of journalists already murdered as civil strife, political crises and criminal activities continue to wreak havoc worldwide.

May their souls rest in eternal peace!

It is regrettable that the work of journalists is still not appreciated and respected by all.

With no media, as former United States president Thomas Jefferson noted, democracy would suffer.

“If I had to choose between government without newspapers and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter,” Jefferson was once quoted as saying.

A well-informed public is the core of democracy.

People have the right to know.

But first the media has to know.

This brings us to the unfortunate scenario whereby governments have been notorious for impeding the work of journalists — either through hostile media laws or inflicting physical harm.

Governments, especially in Africa, are notorious for denying the media — and hence the people — access to critical information that affects the very people’s lives.

The work of journalists in Lesotho is not without obstacles.

While freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association are proclaimed in our constitution, the government is yet to articulate and adopt an acceptable national media policy.

The media has bemoaned time and again the presence of laws that hinder access to information.

Until these issues are addressed satisfactorily, Lesotho’s media — whose growth has also been inhibited by a weak economy and poor infrastructure — operating conditions will remain poor for journalists.

The challenges the media are facing in this country have been articulated ad nauseum.

But we as the media have given little attention to what we are not doing right.

To put it simply, the existence of freedom of expression means nothing without responsible journalism.

By responsible journalism we don’t mean writing flattering pieces about certain politicians or individuals.

Our standards of journalism here, to put it mildly, are poor.

Journalism ethics and standards have been butchered willy-nilly because our ever-accommodating industry gives refuge to anyone who can string a sentence.

We cannot be responsible journalists when we don’t know what that entails in the first place.

It is critical that, as we commemorate World Press Freedom Day, we do some self-introspection.

People join the media for various reasons.

Some simply want to earn a living, while others want to influence events in their communities and the world at large.

But whatever the reason, we must not allow every Tom and Jack — including activists and letters-to-the-editor writers — to take centre stage and pass off hogwash as news.

This means we seriously need as the media industry to invest in the training of our journalists and reporters.

The government should also take a leading role in helping improve the standards of journalism in the country.

But that doesn’t mean the government will have to expect the media to toe the line.

The media is critical in keeping an eye on the excesses of governments.

It is the role of the media to be the voice of the voiceless and to write news exposing irregularities and corruption both in the public and private sectors.

In short, the people have a right to know.

But they cannot know if the media do not know in the first place.

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