Lesotho: Mass media

Extracted from: Belinda Musanhu 2009 "Chapter 5: Lesotho" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg, 161-162.

There is a variety of media outlets operating in Lesotho, both public and private. Since 1998 when the government opened up the media sector to independent media houses, there has been growth in the private media, although the state electronic media continue to dominate coverage in all areas of the country. Section 47K of the National Assembly Election Order [1992] gives the government the effective right to determine the content of broadcasts to ensure news coverage of the campaigning by all political parties. The electoral commission is also required to monitor coverage to ensure access and arrange with the government media to allocate time for political parties to present their manifestos to the public. However, by virtue of being geographically surrounded by South Africa, citizens also enjoy wider media access. South Africa's daily newspapers and radio and television channels are freely available in Lesotho. At times, these provide views that differ from those of the Lesotho state media. A few privileged citizens also have access to satellite television and internet based media.

Radio Lesotho and Lesotho Television (LTV) are both owned and controlled by the government. They tend to favour and reflect the government's position on all issues, including electoral matters. Radio Lesotho gives national coverage, unlike all the other private radio stations whose coverage is limited to the urbanised areas. Despite some access to the public media for the promotion of their campaigns, opposition parties in Lesotho, like in many African countries perennially, complain about the fact that the government-owned media do not afford them adequate election coverage and that they receive a friendlier reception from privately owned radio stations. (There are no privately owned TV stations, except the ones from South Africa).

The IEC uses both private and public media to educate voters. Radio Lesotho regularly provides opportunity for ruling and opposition parties to campaign for free, albeit for a limited period. Although it is possible to purchase air time, most parties do not have enough financial resources to do this on a consistent basis.

Lesotho has approximately 18 newspapers and periodicals, none of which are dailies. The print media consist of various newspapers in the Sesotho language and four English-language weekly newspapers - The Post, The Survivor, The Public Eye and The Mirror, which are mostly free from editorial control by the government. In 2002 an election reporting guide was issued by the IEC to members of the media, setting out ethical standards for journalists covering the election, including a checklist (Commonwealth Observer Group 2002, 20).

In 2007, most of the political parties were of the view that the public media, namely Radio Lesotho and Lesotho National TV, were biased in favour of the governing party. Commendably, the IEC responded to these concerns by establishing a media monitoring panel to support the IEC in its efforts to monitor how media were covering the elections, although it was not clear what sanctions would be applied to those who infringed the code of conduct. By the end of the election campaign, political parties had been given at least two hours of a simultaneous broadcast on public radio and television. Some stakeholders did concede, however, that, because of the skewed manner in which the election was being covered by the public broadcaster, the private media tended to inversely focus on the opposition, which meant that, for the most part, neither the private nor the public media were impartial in their coverage of the election.

Reports were received from the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) that a number of journalists had received death threats from members of the ruling party over coverage of issues which tainted the image of the ruling party. These threats or perceptions are reported to have led to a certain amount of self-censorship on the part of the media (EISA 2007, 19).

Online news website

Public Eye, [www] http://www.publiceye.co.ls/ [English; opens new window] (accessed 29 Mar 2010).

References

COMMONWEALTH OBSERVER GROUP 2002 Lesotho General Election 25 May 2002: Report, [www] http://www.thecommonwealth.org/Shared_ASP_Files/UploadedFiles/538A64C8-7C5C-4A6A-A434-28F78421C7E9_Lesotho2002%E2%80%A6OGReport-Web.pdf (offline 29 Mar 2010).

EISA 2008 Election Observer Mission Report: Lesotho National Assembly Elections 17 February 2007 [PDF document], Johannesburg, EISA Election Observer Mission Report, No 26.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ELECTION ORDER 1992.