|Official Country Name:||Kingdom of Lesotho|
|Region (Map name):||Africa|
|Language(s):||Sesotho, English, Zulu, Xhosa|
Background & General Characteristics
Lesotho is landlocked and completely encircled by South Africa, with approximately 2.14 million people of which 99.7 percent speak Sesotho, with English used as the business language. The kingdom is a fragile democracy—a hereditary constitutional monarchy having a king as head of state without executive or legislative powers. Executive power is vested in the cabinet headed by a prime minister. Predominantly mountainous with a literacy rate of 83 percent, the kingdom's population is concentrated wherever arable land is found, primarily in the lower veld, along rivers and the capital of Maseru.
The press's growth and size are inhibited by Lesotho's weakened infrastructure, dependence on South Africa (35 percent of male wage-earners work as miners), and a mostly rural population (agriculture caters for 57 percent of the domestic labor force, with 86 percent of the population as subsistence farmers) with a low per-capita income—factors relegating the purchase of newspapers, radios, television and the Internet as unaffordable luxuries. The HIV/AIDS prevalence of 23 percent threatens life expectancy, population size and socioeconomic productivity, including media patronage.
Since attaining its independence from Britain in 1966, Lesotho has undergone more than one coup, and has been engulfed in several political mayhems resulting in killings, looting and property destruction involving the press, which is caught in a quagmire adversely affecting its quality and existence.
Lesotho's economic and press sustainability is dominated by its geography and dependence on South Africa, the main buyer of water, Lesotho's primary resource. The economy is based on a declining Gross Domestic Product that in 1990 was 67 percent; in 1997, 33 percent; and in 2000, 11.5 percent, as well as from mineworkers employed in South Africa, erratic subsistence agriculture (wheat, corn and sorghum) and livestock production. Growing privatization emanating from the IMF-driven restructuring has led to the need for a poverty reduction and growth package to deal with escalating unemployment precipitated by subsequent retrenchments intended to reduce the size of the government, the largest single employer. There is a small manufacturing industry that depends on farm products supporting canning, milling, leather and jute initiatives.
Civil disorder in 1998 destroyed 80 percent of the commercial infrastructure in major cities, many of them lacking in insurance coverage. Political turmoil has adversely affected the media, especially the independent press, which lost buildings, equipment, the ability to cover events, personnel through retrenchment, sales and advertising. This was compounded by government directives discouraging advertising in papers considered critical of the ruling party. The resulting shoestring budget impedes the press' long-term development. Even with reconstruction efforts underway, progress in advertising and circulation are limited by the drop in readership due to lost jobs and an increase in the cost of printing and premiums. Economic development is impeded by a lack of natural resources, serious land shortages, a fragile ecology, and vulnerability to cyclic adverse climatic conditions, leaving the country a net importer of foodstuffs.
Although there are various small publications, periodicals and newsletters, most of Lesotho's media are sate-owned. The Lesotho News Agency (LENA), the only news agency, controls a widely disseminated newspaper. The Inter Press Service (IPS) of Italy operates under the auspices of LENA, a foreign bureau and a national radio broadcasting station. Prohibitive printing costs, poor technology and unavailability of newsprint make it difficult for Lesotho's small publications. Generally, low investment in this sector has adversely impacted the growth of the printing and publishing industry. Most of the country's printing jobs, including major works from the government, are being done outside the country. Government operated weekly papers are Lenstoe la Basotho, Lesotho Today, Lesotho Weekly, Makatolle, The Mirror, MoAfrica, Public Eye, Mopheme (The Survivor), The Sun, The Southern Star and Shoeshoe (a quarterly). The Leselinyana la Lesotho (Light of Lesotho) is published fortnightly, and Moeletsi oa Basotho, a weekly, are published by Lesotho Evangelical and Roman Catholic churches, respectively.
The Lesotho National Broadcasting Service is government-owned and broadcasts in Sesotho and English. Its radio and television transmissions began in 1964 and 1988, respectively.
The are six publishers: Longman Lesotho (Pty) Ltd; Macmillan Boleswa Publishers of Lesotho (Pty) Ltd; Mazenod Institute; Morija sesuto Book Depot; St Michael's Mission and Government Printer.
The government, which controls mass media, has paid lip service to the adoption of a national media policy for many years. Despite its suspension from 1970-1986 and being rewritten in 1990, there has been very little change in the key elements of the constitution. While freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association are proclaimed, Lesotho's successions of governments have failed to articulate and adopt a national media policy, with one proposal shelved by the Ministry of Communication for years. Changes of governments also meant that new governments ignore or reverse promises made by their predecessors.
Government's control of media's purpose is not only to ensure timely dissemination of government policy, but also censorship. Government and independent journalists have been attacked for reporting certain matters or for being in the wrong place. Government and security forces have successively suppressed free press, and shot, maimed, defamed and fired journalists for reporting anything other than official statements from the government. The media has not been cowed into silence and continues to publish amidst many obstacles and is enjoying some degree of press freedom. But overall, there is a great deal of self-censorship and restraint by government-owned media.
State-press relations are defined by draconian internal security legislation giving considerable power to the military and police, and restricting the right of assembly including certain forms of industrial activity. Independent press and its staff suffered the worst atrocities in September 1998 due to looting and burning of buildings compounded by security forces' arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions and ill-treatment of detainees. The persisting political climate has proven harsh, where journalists are often faced with intimidation from the government, and attacks and accusations for supporting the government's opposing political parties.
Attitude Toward Foreign Media
The attitude toward foreign media is a mixed bag with media associations having international links operating in Lesotho. They are: The National Union of Journalists and the Media Institute of South Africa (MISA, the local chapter being called Media Institute of Lesotho-MILES), News Share Foundation (a journalist cooperative), the Commonwealth Journalists Association, and the Adopt-A-Media Network.
Electronic News Media
Regarding electronic News Media, Lesotho lacks resources to develop a film industry, but the Lesotho Council of Churches owns a mobile video outfit that produces videos for the international and local market. MILES also is funding the development of the Lesotho video industry, and it operates a video production unit for assisting members with technical support and training skills. Lesotho is rapidly becoming computerized with the government controlling most facets of information technology.
In 2000, government-run Lesotho Telecommunications Authority (LTC) was providing telephones and fax service in a joint venture with South Africa's Vodacom. The project will include a cellular telephone service, with the government relinquishing ownership in June 2001. The Internet has made slow inroads reflecting low incomes and a small potential market. Before localizing the service, Lesotho's Office Equipment's Internet connectivity was through service providers in South Africa. The University of Lesotho's Institute of Extra-Mural Studies owns its own Internet service and runs an Internet café for students and the public. South Africa's electronic and print media of varying reliability and quality is widely available in Lesotho. Independent newspapers, including the Mirror, MoAfrica, and Mopheme (The Survivor), tend to be critical of the government and can be found on the Internet.
Education & TRAINING
Christian missions under the Ministry of Education's direction provides a free, compulsory, seven-year elementary education. Provisions for secondary, technical, vocational and post secondary education have increased. Lesotho's background in media training is poor with the National University of Lesotho offering a diploma certificate in mass communications with most of the training done in-house or as short courses organized by groups such as MILES and CM Media.
Considering a history of government suppression, shootings and maiming of journalists, the media has not been silenced and continues to publish and enjoy some degree of freedom. However, there exists a persistent threat of an armed conflict with a Lesotho Defense Force historically involved in domestic politics, and factional infighting in addition to the government feverishly suppressing a free press. Opposition in parliament may strengthen democracy's weak roots in Lesotho by promoting a favorable press environment. MILES' steadfast advocacy for constitutional reforms and a self-regulating media-driven body in opposition to government's media-control legislation holds further promise for an improved free press.
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Gamble, Paul. "Lesotho." In Economist Intelligence Unit Country Profile: Botswana and Lesoto (May 2002): 51-95.
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IMF. Lesotho Statistical Annex, June 2001.
Windhoek, Namibia. "Editor Loses Defamation Case." In Lesotho Alert. Media Institute of Southern Africa, October 23, 2000. Available from http://www.misanet.org/ . ——. "Minister Threatens to Fire Journalists." In Lesotho Alert. October 12, 1998. Available from http://www.misanet.org/ .
——. "Speaker Lifts Ban Against Media." In Lesotho Alert. September 16, 1997. Available from http://www.misanet.org/ .
——. "Speaker of Parliament Shuns Discussion on Ban." In Lesotho Alert. September 16, 1997. Available from http://www.misanet.org/ .
"World Development Indicators." World Bank. Washington, DC, 2002.
Saliwe M. Kawewe , Ph.D.