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Stakeholders call for media reforms

Bereng Mpaki

PARTICIPANTS at the recent multi-stakeholder national dialogue have recommended the amendment of the constitution to recognise media freedom in the country.

The recommendation was made during the recent multi-stakeholder dialogue sessions in Maseru on media reforms and is contained in a report entitled, ‘The Lesotho National Dialogue and Stabilization Project – Media Sector Reforms’.

The media reforms are part of the multi-sector reforms which were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016 as part of efforts to achieve lasting peace and stability in Lesotho. Other areas that were recommended for the proposed reforms are the constitution, the security sector, public service and judiciary.

The recommendation comes amid concerns about the lack of adequate protection for media personnel when exercising their duties.

The process to amend the constitution to cater for the media freedom will follow various stages beginning with the development of a white paper on the proposed amendment followed by the drafting of the bill to amend Section 14 of the current constitution. In its current form the constitution does not specifically speak of freedom of the media but Section 14 of the constitution merely recognises the freedom of expression.

The national dialogue also recommended the development of a comprehensive communication strategy to uphold the right to information in line with international best practice on the access to public and private information.

This after the stakeholders noted that it was generally difficult for media practitioners and the public to access information held by various government departments and private bodies.

Another recommendation was made in relation to advertising, which is an important source of revenue for media organisations. The participants noted that government advertising in the media was beset by challenges such as selectivity and bias.  They accused the government of using advertising to punish critical media while rewarding supportive or compliant media.

They therefore called for an impartial, efficient and timely government advertising mechanism based on best practices to guide selection of advertising platforms. Some of the factors that must be considered include the size of listenership and viewership of the electronic media and circulation figures for the print media.

The stakeholders also called for better protection of citizens against the infringement of their rights by the media. They said there were not enough remedies available to citizens who had been subjected to vitriol and vulgar language by news publications.

To address such challenges, the stakeholders proposed the establishment of a media council and a media ombudsman to perform oversight functions on the media. They also proposed the crafting of a code of conduct to govern the conduct and operations of media practitioners.

There were also concerns that media houses chose to employ engage volunteers and inexperienced interns instead of recruiting qualified and experienced media practitioners.

To address such concerns, it was agreed that there should be a media policy prescribing minimum requirements for practicing as a journalist.

It was also agreed that there should be continuous training, capacity building and skills development for journalists, editors and media owners to improve the quality of the media output.

To this end, a white paper should be crafted for the institutions offering journalism and media studies containing a proposed curriculum and syllabus change in line with international best practice.

A call was also made to transform the Lesotho National Broadcasting Services (LNBS) from being a state broadcaster to an independent public service broadcaster.

The report says LNBS is being perceived as a government and ruling political party mouthpiece.

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