Press freedom should be protected
IN this edition, we report that Moafrika FM radio station editor-in-chief, Ratabane Ramainoane, will tomorrow appear before the Magistrate’s Court in Maseru facing defamation charges after his movie-style arrest at the High Court premises on Friday.
Mr Ramainoane was arrested two days after his radio station was shut down by the government for allegedly spewing hate speech. He had then challenged the shutting down of the radio station in an urgent application before the High Court.
However, the court ruled against the urgency of the matter. As Mr Ramainoane, stepped out of the High Court, police officers in plain clothes pounced on him by grabbing him by his hands and tugging at his clothes.
The police officers pulled Mr Ramainoane back and he fell to the ground along with his spectacles as they handcuffed him.
Added to that, the cops shouted at onlookers who dared to capture the drama on their smartphones before whisking Mr Ramainoane to the Police Headquarters in Maseru.
Not surprisingly, global human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has strongly condemned the arrest, saying it amounted to intimidation of the media.
Whatever infractions Mr Ramainoane might have committed, he certainly did not deserve that kind of treatment. If Mr Ramainoane committed the crime of defamation, he should have his day in court without being needlessly manhandled and humiliated.
Whatever, their motivations for the Nollywood-style arrest, the police certainly did not cover themselves in glory and only perpetuated the allegation that they are persecuting Mr Ramainoane.
Granted, journalists must be professional and ethical. The media indeed must report in an accurate, fair and balanced manner. Of course, as journalists we must critically look at ourselves in the mirror and be honest as to whether we are adhering to ethics and upholding the public interest and not airbrushing our own shortcomings.
As an existential necessity and professional duty, we must be ethical but also firm, especially with public officials who may want to abuse power and scare away journalists from exposing their incompetence and corruption.
It is wrong for anyone to tell journalists what they can and cannot say or write. And when incidents of that nature happen, we ought to look at where the perception that media can be gagged and controlled comes from.
The world over, journalists are under threat from state and non-state actors with some losing their lives on a daily basis. Sadly, the killers of journalists are almost never brought to justice. This has created a climate of impunity in which – from the perspective of the killers – the murder of journalists is trivial, an act that can be repeated again and again with no fear of arrest or conviction.
Given that the government has set out a reformist agenda, it would be an own goal if they are perceived as an opponent of media freedom. This is not to say that they should look the other way when hate speech or other crimes are committed by journalists.
A measured response would have done them no harm.