- Local press freedom organisations in Lesotho are noting that "public institution's refusal to part with information to media practitioners on issues of national interest and public concern is becoming more and more prevalent."
MILES, the national media freedom watchdog of Lesotho, today stated its concern over the late approval of the country's Access to Information Bill, stating several examples on how media had not been granted the public information they were entitled to lately.
As an example, in December 2002, a local publication - 'Moeletsi Oa Basotho', which publishes in Sesotho - had been denied access to information by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), regarding a culprit who was knifing citizens in the main bus-stop area in eastern Maseru, Lesotho's capital.
- That on its own constituted a danger to the public in that they could have fallen victim to a situation which they could have otherwise easily avoided, had they access to the information that 'Moeletsi Oa Basotho' sought to disseminate, MILES said in its statement.
In another recent incident, a high ranking army official was murdered in April 2003, and once again the LMPS had refused to divulge information about the matter to an independent weekly English publication, 'Mopheme', only to divulge the same information to their in-house publication, 'Leseli Ka Sepolesa', which is a fortnightly Sesotho publication.
In May 2003, 'Mopheme' was also denied access to information about the treatment of a hospitalised prisoner who was allegedly the victim of human rights violations.
Lesotho, like some of her neighbours in Southern Africa, has acceded to calls for legislative recognition of the importance of freedom of information.
The Lesotho Law Reform Commission drafted the Access and Receipt of Information Bill in 2000. The aim of the Bill is to give effect to the constitutional right of freedom of expression by ensuring access to information and by enabling people to use such information for the exercise or protection of their rights.
- The Access and Receipt of Information Bill recognises the principles of accessibility, transparency, accountability and participation, according to the MILES statement.
MILES thus urged the Basotho government to "table the Access and Receipt of Information Bill in Parliament." Apart from ensuring that "the work of media practitioners, as an integral part of our society, would be made easier and more effective, more importantly the peoples’ constitutional right to freedom of expression through access to information would be put into effect."
In consonance with the programme sponsored by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), of which MILES is an affiliate, MILES was introducing the ASK and Speak Out campaigns due to, among other things, the "acknowledgement of the need for access to information legislation."
ASK promotes the adoption and implementation of access to information legislation in the region of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
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