What happened to media freedom?

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POLITICIANS are indeed strange creatures.

When you report favourably about them they go the extra mile to pat you on the back and sing your praises.

But when you write something negative about them they snap and turn against you.

I find this behaviour quite unacceptable.

Next Tuesday Lesotho will join the rest of the world in marking World Press Freedom Day.

With the day fast approaching recent events at home suggest that we still have not learnt enough about press freedom and respect for media independence.

We have over the past months seen how some politicians are willing to go to great lengths to intimidate journalists when they report in a manner that seemingly compromises their interests.

I used to hear some of my fellow journalists complain about intimidating calls from politicians who were not happy with the way they had been covered in the press.

I had, until two weeks ago, not experienced the trauma that comes with such kind of threats.

Potlako Thabane phoned me two weeks ago accusing me of destroying his life.

He said I had destroyed his life after the Lesotho Times published stories about him and his activities within the opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) party.

Potlako is the son of founding ABC leader Thomas Thabane.

He said since the Lesotho Times had achieved its aim of destroying him he would do whatever it took to make himself “feel better,”

I was completely rattled by that call.

The main focus of my story was the reported discord within the party sparked by suspicions that Thabane was eyeing leadership of the party’s youth league.

We had it on record from sources within the ABC youth movement that there were serious divisions within the party.

It is a well-known fact that Thabane is the chairperson of the ABC youth committee for Abia constituency.

It is a fact that Thabane serves as the secretary of the party’s national youth committee.

It is also known that Thabane is a civil servant employed by the ministry of labour.

These facts are in the public domain.

I therefore find it quite strange for Thabane to pretend as if readers are not aware of this not-so-private information.

I must confess that his call left me shaken at first.

More phone calls from ABC supporters left me extremely traumatised.

The ABC supporters said it was not my business as a journalist to poke my nose into the party’s internal affairs.

As a journalist I found that attitude completely flabbergasting.

How many more journalists in Lesotho should continue to find themselves at the receiving end of some politician’s threat for merely reporting facts?

What happened to media freedom?

I find it totally disgusting for politicians to resort to threats against journalists who are merely doing their job.

The ABC last week issued a press release attacking the media for using underhand tactics to lure politicians to divulge sensitive and confidential information.

The letter accused journalists of sowing divisions within political parties. My foot!

It is our obligation as journalists to report truthfully and fairly on issues giving all sides the right of reply.

This is what we did.

As non-journalists, politicians may not be aware of the Windhoek Declaration.

For the avoidance of doubt let me explain what the declaration is all about.

The declaration was put together by African journalists in the Namibian capital of Windhoek in 1991.

It seeks to promote an independent and pluralistic press in Africa.

The journalists said they recognised the strong link between a fully independent press and a successful participatory democracy.

The document calls for free media throughout the world recognising such media as a cornerstone of any democracy.

Lesotho’s politicians should therefore not seek to violate media rights by turning journalists into their personal assistants.

Exerting undue pressure on journalists to report from the viewpoint of the politician will ultimately compromise the integrity of the press.

But one thing must be clear; journalists in Lesotho will not be forced to bend over backwards to compromise professional ethics in order to appease the egos of embattled politicians.

Journalists are not spokesmen of political parties.

I believe reporters should  maintain their vigilance in order to keep politicians — whatever their political affiliation — accountable to the electorate.

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