A LOCAL weekly two weeks ago carried a story quoting the leader of the main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, Thomas Thabane, threatening local journalists who failed to report issues “accurately.”
“I beg you to report accurately. In other countries journalists are killed. Your biased reporting will result in the ‘falling’ of one of you,” Thabane was quoted as saying in the weekly.
That is a chilling threat.
Is Thabane suggesting that journalists who report issues that are not palatable to his party should be beaten up and killed as we have so often seen around the world?
We think the remarks were grossly reckless.
We find the threat completely out of sync with what we would expect in a democratic country.
However, coming as it does from a veteran politician of Thabane’s stature with a significant electoral following around the country, we will certainly take notice of the threat.
Thabane is a mature politician who has been in the game for over 40 years.
We expect him to exercise restraint. Part of that means guarding his tongue.
We find it completely unacceptable for Thabane to issue veiled threats against the media.
Whipping up emotions against the media is an act of sheer recklessness on his part.
For years now Thabane has been a darling of the private media.
This is mainly because the private media generally sympathises with the political underdog.
However, as the private media it would be an act of dereliction of duty on our part if we were to fail to blow the whistle when the opposition is in the wrong.
This is what generally inspires our coverage of the ABC and other political players in Lesotho.
We have no mandate from anyone to do a hatchet job and portray the opposition party in a negative light.
That journalists are killed elsewhere in the world is a known fact.
We are aware that journalism is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world outside a war zone.
Hundreds of journalists are killed in the line of duty every year. Thousands others are arrested.
Some are left maimed for life for daring to speak out against the powerful and well-to-do in society.
Others have to endure virulent threats against them for pursuing the truth.
Lesotho’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression and that of the media.
We would expect Thabane, as the face of the opposition, to be at the forefront in defending the media’s right to operate without hindrance.
As a newspaper we will publish things that may not be palatable to him and his party without fear or favour.
The test for a true democrat is to allow divergent viewpoints to compete on the market-place of ideas.
Making preposterous threats to journalists is certainly not the way to do things in the 21st century.
As a respected politician Thabane should be at the forefront in promoting tolerance.
The ABC must engage the media in healthy debate.
Making threats to the media will irrevocably damage the party’s image and reputation.
Last week, we carried a story about Thabane’s son, Potlako, after learning from sources within the party that he was eyeing the presidency of the party’s youth league.
We thought this was a news-worthy story with huge implications for the country’s domestic politics.
But last Friday Potlako Thabane picked up the phone and made threatening remarks to one of our cub reporters who contributed to the story.
The reporter was left badly shaken.
We think such threats are completely unacceptable.
We would be terribly disappointed if the party were to remain quiet and fail to censure Thabane.
If the story about Thabane’s son was a complete fabrication we would have been the first to retract it.
But because the story is true we think the threatening phone calls were uncalled for.
If party officials feel that they have been aggrieved they are free to inform the editor of the newspaper to express their grievances.
Making threats is not the way to go.