- Media watchdogs express shock over a decision by the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) to suspend the private radio broadcaster 'Harvest FM'. It was the first-ever drastic measure against a privately-owned station taken by the Lesotho government, local analysts told afrol News.
The suspension took effect as of last Tuesday at midnight, forcing the station to halt operations for three months until October. Today, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) joined other media watchdogs in strongly criticising the surprise decision in a country where press freedom until now has stood strongly. CPJ appealed to the LCA to revoke its decision immediately.
Also in Lesotho, the station closure resulted to uproar within civic organisations and supporters, saying it was politically motivated as the station had been criticising government since the 2007 general elections. 'Harvest FM' was also accused of supporting main opposition party, All Basotho Convention.
'Harvest FM' has received a number of defamation complains in recent months. Last year, the LCA wrote to 'Harvest FM' requesting a response within 60 days to two defamation allegations. The station failed to respond in time and was fined US$ 2,085.
There was also issued a second letter from the authority demanding an official response within 60 days which was sent to the station in April. Despite paying penalty fines and responding to the second letter in time, the authority decided to suspend the radio broadcaster, the station's lawyer Hae Phoofolo said.
Further complaints came from the principal secretary in the Ministry of Communications saying the stations morning "Rise and Shine" programme was critical of his ministry; and from police commissioners against the very same programme, which had alleged that police killed a suspect in their custody. These two complaints were also said to have been causes for the closure of the station.
The Chairman of the Media Institute of Southern Africa Lesotho, Peter Potjo Potlo told afrol News the closure was an extreme punishment by government, holding that a fine or some sort of lighter punishment could have been done to being the station to order. Though Mr Potjo admits that the station has carried out some erroneous reports in its broadcast, this did not warrant for its closure.
LCA chairman Percy Mangoaela said 'Harvest FM' could be suspended for an additional six months if the station is accused of further defamation charges after the three-month suspension period. The station now is expected to shut its operations completely, and the LCA has vowed to carry out inspections to ensure that the station does not breach the order by the communications body.
The controversial station has been loggerheads with the LCA since last year for broadcasting content that is alleged to be inciting violence. Its closure comes despite station's pleas for mercy.
Authorities have, however, agreed to a requested meeting by the management at 'Harvest FM' tomorrow to seek a negotiated settlement.
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